If you will not do it, nobody else will do it for you…

I am still experiencing feelings of huge embarrassment when I am rewinding in my mind this scene. It was about 10 year ago in a one-on-one meeting I had with my manager. Back then I was a bright, smart, capable engineer that can do everything and that should deserve anything – at least that was my picture of myself then.

We’ve spent 1 hour or so accusing my manager that he his not spending enough time to think about my personal growth. In his role he is (obviously) responsible with figuring out my strengths, identifying opportunities for me and telling me what I need to do in order to be even more successful (remember – I was already a success when this conversation happened). He IS responsible with defining my career. Who else is, right?

I still remember my manager’s face: he was perplexed. He was a young manager (within months of experience), brilliant and experienced engineer (so far, he may be the best engineer I have worked with) but he was a young manager. And it turns out a wild and naive youngster is a bigger / harder problem to solve than porting a real time operating system on the latest DSP processor released by Motorola (trust me, it is).

The one-on-one meeting was far from being a success. Instead of receiving answers and a clear recipe for my career I have received difficult and annoying questions: “What are the things you like and dislike?”, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”, “What do you like more: writing code alone, discussing technical problems with your colleagues, creating project plans?”. But no answer. Clearly, we are dealing with the worst manager possible.

10 years have passed and I am still ashamed of that meeting. My life has changed significantly when I have discovered a very important thing. There is a key word in the Personal Development concept: it’s personal. Finding out what you like and what your career should look like is only your responsibility. In fact it should be the first item on your work-related prioritized list. For some people, figuring this out may be incredibly easy: “I cannot see myself doing anything else than writing music”. For others, the process may be very complex and lengthly, may imply lots of trials and experimentations, may require several “leap-of-faith” decisions and may translate into painful lessons. But all this is your responsibility to handle. If you will not do it, nobody else will do it for you…

What about your manager? What is his responsibility? He is there to help you, or better said, to support you. Once you know what the next step should be, the manager should be there to help you make that step: identify opportunities, coach you, train you, encourage and guide you. But do not expect this from your manager: “You know what Mihai? Your drawings are nice. You should be an architect.”

A couple of weeks ago I had my one-on-one with one of the engineers reporting to me. This time I was the manager that had to deal with an interesting issue. This time the issue was time. “I want to do this and that and get involve here and there but I cannot. I have meetings 6 hours per day and no more time for anything else”. My response was instant: “Do you want me to help with your calendar?”. “Yes, please!” came, unfortunately, the answer…

We leave in a crazy world where, if you are not careful, your time will quickly be filled-up with things that may be so important and urgent for others but not necessarily for you. Who do you think should be responsible for making sure that your time (one of the most precious assets that you have) is properly managed.

Your manager? Do you really want him to manage your time? The best that will happen is that he will make sure that things that are urgent and important for HIM will be well addressed in your calendar. Is THIS what you want? If you will not do it, nobody else will do it for you…

And finally, what about your dreams, your “WHAT IFs” and the answer to the simple question: “Is this what will make me happy”? Who do you think it should be responsible for this? Your boss, HR department, friends, wife/husband, parents? If you will not do it, nobody else will do it for you…

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