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Career: Be a tree - grow in place


In an age when research says millennials change jobs 4 times before age 32 and job sites advise switching companies to advance in your career; they claim "workers who stay with a company longer than two years are said to get paid 50% less, and job hoppers are believed to have a higher learning curve," I'm here to say: try to grow in place.

Last week I celebrated my 9th anniversary with KPMG International; tomorrow is my 38th birthday. I get all reflective around this time of year for sure. I'd like to share the advice I gave a student recently. The power to grow is in your hands.

My path was not direct. I planned on being a writer and a professor. I guess the idea of reading and writing all day and talking to students seemed the ideal nerd-career in my 20s. While in university I worked in business development and in the temp field, moving from company to company on long and short assignments. I worked as a tutor in the school with students of all majors and degree programs.

When life stepped in and pushed me into full-time work for need of health-insurance, I put my education on hold and sought a great place to work. I wanted a job, any job, with benefits and enough salary to make my car payment and rent. When I landed at KPMG in 2006, I thought I was about to go work at a radio station! Instead, I found a culture that inspired growth and a network that fed my inspiration. Today, I read and write all day and speak with and educate colleagues around the globe - nerd-career achieved!

In my years at KPMG, I know I needed to keep learning to keep growing. I needed to figure out so much, like KPMG is not a radio station! (duh.) I dug into the rich soil and got dirty, I got involved. One place I became involved in is the KPMG university mentorship program. When my mentee, who is a junior looking to get into a Big 4 as a career accountant one day, asked me if I think it is better to stay with one company and work up, or jump around to all the big firms until one clicked, it took a moment to answer.

Do you jump ship? Isn't that kind of what I did temping in my 20s? Not really. I was a temp with one company for over 10 years, but I thought I was buying time until I got into a doctoral program. I was getting a feel of many types of businesses and growing as a temp. I spent all that time growing my own tree. What have I learned now that I have been in one place, on one team, for near a decade?

For me, the people and the culture make KPMG a great place to work, but besides this, I firmly believe you can build a great career without bouncing around.

Of course people can argue that growth depends on factors outside of your control like the environment of your company and nourishment of your role, but if you are looking at Big 4s or other robust companies, there is so much good in each that most is up to you. Any company that has made it into Fortune's Top 100 Companies to Work For (KPMG is #12), falls into the category of great places to build a career. Even still, there is so much in your control (including replanting elsewhere) that the health of your career is solely in your control.

So I told him - only you can grow your tree. 

Growing in place, like a tree, increases your value, satisfaction, and engagement. Your career is the tree and you are the arborist. You have more control, even in face of weather, famine, and drought, than you know.

Before you look at that seemingly greener grass, have you checked yourself? How healthy is your tree? I don't want to be the weed spreading myself everywhere; I want to be a Mighty tree. (Weeds are okay, but where is the fruit?)

Ask yourself:

          1. Am I challenged?
          2. Am I engaged?
          3. Am I excited?
          4. Am I involved? 
          5. Am I being real?



        1. Find the good challenge. You are responsible for your own advancement.

        Sure, the boss and the budget might hold you back, but you must take control of your own career. This is the very heart of an attitude that can keep you interested and focused on building, not just a solid career, but a career you find challenging and interesting for years. Dig deeper and take in everything you can.

        I started as a temp at KPMG 10 years ago. It took me about a year to find a network of friends within the company and then 6 months to network myself into an interview and full-time position. The soil was rich even in that pre-2008 financial collapse period. I took an administrative split-role under two bosses. It was a challenge. I advocated for advancement and an associate track role, and after a few more growth-spurts, I am a manager today in that same team. Don't sit back and expect to be handed advancement or think the only option is a new company. Maybe another company is an option, but not the only one.

        2. Engage shift your work-life. Take advantage of every educational opportunity or find some more.

        Instead of being reactive, get proactive. Life-long learning is at the core. When you seek opportunities to learn and you apply that new knowledge into your daily life, you'd be amazed at how opportunities for growth manifest. The people I have met in internal training have become touch-points on my path and support within my company as I learn about other teams and their functions. Going back to school to finish my MA kept feeding that learner fire. Work is perpetual and endless. Grab the chance and take a few hours for development a week. Challenge is nourishment.

        Read 30 minutes a day, everyday. Read a damn book, take a developmental class, find someone to teach you, take control of your ignorance and make it knowledge. I have had to teach myself so many programs and the whole world of domaining and DNS administration. Start as a novice and keep going. For some people, challenges are like walls that seem impossible to scale (it's like in Game of Thrones and you need to escape the White Walkers and only have a pick-ax at the base of The Wall). You need to start and it is your power to persist that keeps you going.


        3. Get excited, not frustrated! 

        Every single week I face frustrating, maddening situations whose complications pile to ruin my day. Sounds horrible?  Well, if I always labeled them such, sure. I would hate being frustrated all the time. Instead, that same feeling can be turned into excitement by shifting perception. This extends from point 2, because every frustration is a chance to learn something - about yourself, about your company, and about your ability. Tony Robbins says "Change Your State" because "motion creates emotion". This is why you see advice to stand during phone calls, smile when you speak, and take a walk. Your blood needs to move. When I find I am most frustrated during the day is when I have been sitting for far too long - everything looks impossible and grim. My go-to is a cubicle dance party where I put something upbeat on my Bluetooth and boogie like a fiend. (This is far easier when I am working remotely, but I've literally danced vigorously in my cubicle till I felt my energy flow.) When you get excited and curious, you get more optimistic and energetic. Make the frustration wind and learn to bend and flex. Let your leaves dance.


        4. Get involved and volunteer. Step up.

        We are lucky to have a robust network of causes and opportunities to give-back at KPMG. It is one of the very best things about the organization. If you don't have volunteering at your company, start it up. Find a cause that really feels good, and talk to others about it. Get your boss to buy-in to setting up something official.

        Even if it is not volunteering for charity causes, raise your hand for projects outside your day job. I help organize our summer event every year and work with the US marketing team. It gives me the chance to bond with people outside my team and get a feel for how others have built their own careers. Stepping up for projects that are community-building and not career-building help break monotony and bubble-blindness of daily work. It is amazing to share something you care about with people who also want to do good in this world. It isn't about money, it is about more. Fertilize your tree with good will and kindness.


        5. Stop and reality-check. Be honest with yourself.

        Review time comes around. Goals that were set need to be met. It may seem rational to blame short-comings on outside factors and claim successes on your brilliance, but rational is not always realistic. Hold yourself to account as much as you hold others to account. For me, I track successes and failures in an inside/outside fashion. How did I help or hinder? How did others? What did I actually do? Sometimes it is easier to toss blame, complain, and live in frustration. But progress is made when you can honestly own your part and work on making it more successful next time. When I started adjusting my approach to reviews, like acknowledging my defensiveness when something I worked on had gone wrong, I realized my attitude did nothing to change the outcome and made me look bad. If you are not happy in your position, is it the position or your approach to the position? Can you change, or can your boss change anything to make it better?

        Recognize when you need to prune habits, processes, and ideas. Realize your faults and seek to fix them. Sometimes your tree needs support, medication, or replanting. Regular check-up stop disease and pests from infecting the whole.

        Recap

        Trees grow in place. Their roots grow deep, their branches strongly extend out into the world. Trees can be replanted if they are healthy to begin with, and you need time, care, and sun before you find fruit. If you aren't getting the care and sun - move. If you are getting what you need, give it some time and do the care and maintenance yourself to get to the fruit faster. The best and juiciest fruit is born on well-maintained trees in robust environments.

        How did you grow your career? Are you a tree or a weed?


        May your roots grow deep, your branches strong, and may you find nourishment on your path through life.

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