Anyone who has wagered more than once, is liable to experience the “gambler’s fallacy.” If I bet on heads just one more time, it’s bound to land on it this time. We think that after enough losses, the odds of the other alternative increase. Unfortunately, this line of thinking is flawed. The probability of outcomes in any particular flip of a coin is always the same. This is true regardless of the number of previous flips and their outcomes.
Many of us subconsciously draw the same conclusions about career advancement. I haven’t been promoted for the last two years, this time around they will definitely “have to” move me up. And surprise, when the firm-wide memo of promotions is released, my name isn’t on the list. My first thought is, “I can’t believe I didn’t make the cut again.” Then the internal accusations and blame start in earnest. The executives making the decisions “must not care about me.” They are just trying to “squeeze every dollar they can” out of me. They do not “appreciate my work.” And finally, “I better start working on my resume.” Fast forward twelve months and the same things happen all over again.
The reality here is quite different than the way it appears on the surface. Unlike the coin flip, my promotion was never a subject of chance. Generally, if I was not promoted it wasn’t due to bad luck, or the result of a malevolent executive who is out to get me. It is usually the consequence of a series of actions that I consciously (or unconsciously) did not take. Career advancement is not something that happens to me, it is something that I must cause to happen.
When we are in college, we all understand that our grades depend on our own actions and decisions. The reason I failed that course was because I got drunk the night before the final, and didn’t start studying until two hours before the exam. Alternatively, if I did really well, it was because I studied hard, practiced and made a genuine effort at mastering the material. Our careers do not offer the same level of direct feedback as college classes do. Most jobs offer at most twice-a-year reviews, and these are often regarded as a mere formality. As a result, we often fail to connect the dots as to why the person in the next cube got promoted and we did not.
To truly excel in the workplace and get ahead in our careers, we need to create our own systems for obtaining necessary feedback. Although this may be uncomfortable at first, getting into the habit of asking for feedback is the only way to grow. If I am willing to endure the possibility of some negative comments, I can gain tremendous insights into where I am lacking and what I need to change to get to the next level. We need to remember, that the people we work under (whether we like them or not) did make it to the next level, and are therefore the most obvious resources for direction.
I challenge myself, and everyone reading this post, to ask for at least one critique in the next seven days. I am always amazed at the results, and I’m sure you will be too.
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