Don’t let a plateau become a precipice

Have you ever described life as a roller coaster? It’s got ups and downs, loops, death-defying falls, and hill climbing anticipation. I think we can all relate to that. Recently, I was listening to podcast about our lives and careers being just that. Only Whitney Johnson called it an S-curve. She was talking mostly about careers and businesses, but as per usual, things apply across the board.

She described the early parts of a new job, position, or project, initially it’s a lot of work, you have a lot of questions, and you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. If you imagine it graphed where work is on the x-axis and pay-off is on the y-axis, you put in a lot of work but your line just makes a slow creep upward on the graph.

Then all the sudden 1-2 years in, things start clicking, and pay-off starts growing wildly. You know your job, you don’t have to ask questions, there’s lots to be done, and you can do it all!

Three to four years in to the job, position, or project the pay-off starts to slow down a little. You’ve maxed out, you’re reaching your peak in that place and you’re about to plateau.

Whitney encourages readers of her book Disruption, that this is the important time to shake things up. If you don’t, your plateau becomes your precipice, and you’ll plummet.

We really don’t want you to plummet, we want to see you soar. So when you’re starting to feel like you might be reaching the top of your S-curve, you’ve got to shake things up. Here are some ideas!

  1. Ask for a new project: Is there an event, committee, or responsibility you can take on? It should be something challenging and unfamiliar, but exciting. Is there a new behavior that needs trained? A new enrichment item that needs constructed and evaluated? Look around and ask for suggestions and find yourself a new project.
  2. Do some research: This past year I embarked on (with the help of some trusty interns) two different research projects. It pushed me to learn about data collection, organization, statistics, and re-invigorated my writing skills. I also learned a ton about our animals and guests and made great improvements for them both. Is there something you’ve always been curious about? Start designing a research project.
  3. Get a side-gig: There’s tons of things you could do with little commitment only a few nights/days/week that will jump you to a new s-curve. What special skills do you have that you could put to use outside of your 9-5? Is there a hobby that you enjoy that you could take to the next level? Personally, I just revamped my son’s mud turtle habitat. It was a small challenge and completely unrelated to my daily job but pushed me to learn something new.
  4. Work towards that promotion: Have you ever heard of dressing for the job you want? Well this is your chance. Don’t wait for that promotion or new position to be handed to you, start working towards it and dress for the part. What does that job description look like and what of those duties can you take on in your current role?
  5. Cross-train: There aren’t many organizations that do just one thing. Is there a day where you have an hour or two to shadow someone else? Can you participate by creating content for a website or social media? Is there a skill you could learn from someone on your team? Push yourself and learn something that you didn’t know yesterday.

If you’re a leader, you not only have to focus on your S-curve, but you’ve got to look at those around you as well. Who on your team is ready to make the leap to the next curve? How can you help? Ironically, by coaching someone on your team to the next level and ensuring their plateaus don’t become precipices, you’ll create new challenges for yourself and keep heading on that sky-high trajectory. Get out there and disrupt yourself!

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