How much is your professional experience worth?
If you’ve been asking yourself the question lately, you’ve probably been doing the same job for too long and you know it. If you haven’t yet, that’s a good question to ask yourself: what am I worth outside of my company.
It’s not a question of money, even though it can be. It’s a question of skills, acquired experience and comparing yourself to the big scary world.
Exactly 1 year (and 3 days) ago, I was leaving blueKiwi after 6 years to start a new life at Botify. I’ve written a lot about the challenges I was expecting to face but one. There was a reason why I left I could not tell about yet.
At blueKiwi, I was a kind of super hero, the local Obi-Wan Kenobi you call night and day to fix the galaxy when everything seems lost. When something was wrong, I almost instantly knew where it was, and most of the time, I was able to fix it very quickly. I felt technically great, and professionally accomplished.
Well, sort of. There was something wrong. I had a doubt. What if I was not that good? What if my super powers did not came from my skills but from a deep knowledge of my environment? I had to know, and the only way was to join a team where I would face people whose knowledge of UNIX and computer in general was obviously greater than mine.
After 6 years in the same company, I wanted to reality test my professional experience.
To paraphrase Brendan Gregg, there were things I knew, things I knew I didn’t knew, things I didn’t knew I didn’t knew. There were also things I didn’t knew I knew. They were the things I wanted to know about, even though it meant leaving my 6 years habits.
Last week, my colleague Nathalie gave me the best definition of the comfort zone ever. You reach your comfort zone when you start something without considering you can fail.
Staying in the same for too long puts you in your comfort zone. The knowledge of your environment prevents you from the need to adapt anymore. Issues become easier to solve, and as they become easier, you start avoiding new challenges as you see them.
I love the metaphor of the lion. When in the savannah, the biggest problem a lion has is to feed himself. It’s a vital issue, and as the savannah constantly changes, the lion needs to adapt to solve it. A lion in a zoo will understand his environment enough to know he doesn’t need to look for food anymore. After a few years spent in a zoo, he won’t be able to hunt and adapt to his new environment anymore.
That’s exactly what happens when you’ve been working at the same place for too long. You become the old zoo lion. The world limits are the ones of your company. You start seeing the reality through the prism of your daily work and the feedback of your colleagues. Your yearly (or quarterly if you’re lucky) review becomes your only performance measurement. Let’s be honest, you’re lost your grip with the real world.
The only way to catch up and know is to leave. Find something else, seek for the new challenges you’ve been avoiding, start over, and reality test your professional experience.
Indeed, there’s a risk. We’re living a worldwide economic crisis and for many people around me, finding or even keeping a job is a daily challenge. There’s a risk to be disappointed too. What if you’re not as good as you think you are? But there risks are worth being taken. Only then will you see how much the zoo lion you’ve became can turn back into the savannah one.