Is it important to be growing all the time?

2021 is almost over, are you prepared for that reality?

The day that this is being published, it is my 2 year anniversary at OpenTable.

This dawned the horrifying realization that there's only 2 months until performance review season starts... and this year I have nothing to show for it.

I could rapidly switch gears and go into overdrive these next two months, desperately gathering something worthwhile to elicit the all-important "above average" rating.

But, let’s be honest, I think I'm pretty average and I have no grand plans to change that in the near future.

What have I been doing all year if not growing?

I'm not sure. I've spent a lot of time thinking. I've spent a lot of time off. I've spent a lot of time hiring. I've spent a lot of time soaking up the change of being the best junior engineer ever to the most inexperienced mid-level engineer ever. I've spent a lot of time just finishing up tickets.

I'd like to think all of this has made me a more well-rounded engineer, but I'm really not sure, at least in a performance review case. (No, this doesn't mean I think performance reviews are bad. I like them and am happy to talk about why at any point.)

I think there was a lot of personal experimentation that never went anywhere, compared to big epic projects I worked on that were a huge success. Is that bad? Does that make me a bad engineer?

Here's the elephant in the room:

Career trajectories don't happen in a vacuum.

This happens to be the year after my promotion, but it also happens to be the year of the covid vaccine and the Delta variant. It's been a weird, weird year.

In particular, it's been a year that isn't as friendly to growth as 2020 was. I'm personally no longer working from home and all of the work/life nonsense that entailed, and my team/company has produced a lot less this year as a kind of pandemic burnout recovery. I've taken weeks off this summer, and plan to take weeks off again for the holiday season.

I'm at this pivotal point in my career where I'm supposed to be growing like a rocket, but the rest of the world has seemed so much more important.

I don't know the answer to the question I posed in the title of this post. I'm leaning towards no, you don’t have to grow all the time. That's how I've acted this year, but maybe you disagree. I'd love to discuss it . How's your year been? If you are past the 3-year experience point, what was your memory of this year in your career?

I'm mostly writing this down to document for the longevity of this blog that the real world exists. Will this matter in a decade? We'll find out.

I was inspired to write this today because I was reminded that blog posts are snapshots in time, and I’ve been shying away from sharing the reality of this snapshot in time. The above is what’s going out publicly, but let’s get a little bit more personal in the newsletter.

I first realized I was burned out (from a lack of growth) in late May. It is now September. I’m not actively burned out anymore, but I still haven’t experienced that growth breakthrough.

My main issue is that I lack a depth of understanding. Growing as a junior is about being an independent person who has found at least some comfort zones they can own. Growing as a mid-level is about seeing the big picture, “scope,” technical depth, and having an attention to detail in everything from meetings to tech specs to PR reviews.

It turns out I’m really quite mediocre at that, and I haven’t found a magical book that will teach me how to do any of this. (If you have any recommendations, though, PLEASE, please, give them to me.)

But, do I really care right now? I’m definitely not trying my hardest, there’s too much going on. It’s been the fastest year of my life and everyone I know feels the same way as me.

I think I feel more pressure for growth than ever just because of how hot the tech market is right now. I can’t go a single day without looking at my inbox and being faced with the reality that I can go somewhere else and be forced to grow because it’ll be a new company with new problems. Or that I could at least transfer to a different team internally which a safer bet culture-wise.

I don’t know the answer. Right now, I’m thinking to wait at least until the end of the year. If I’m solidly into 2022 and I still feel this way, then we have a problem and it really needs to be addressed.

But, at least right now, there’s a lot of life going on. I can’t fit my work into all this life. It’s too important.

Thanks for reading. Again, please do reply and discuss your thoughts with me, I’m writing this just to start a conversation and get a pulse on how other people are feeling right now.