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March 7, 2019

Congrats on the promotion, hope you liked being happy

6 min read

You’ve worked hard, long nights, schmoozing with the boss, taking on extra assignments, studying at night for that course or exam, all in an effort to get that big shiny promotion. Now that you’ve been promoted, you’ve got it made, right? Time to pop the champagne and reap what you’ve sown? Unfortunately you’re not quite there just yet.

Charles thought he had it all figured out. Starting out in the helpdesk, he hustled his way further and further up the chain at his medium sized tech support company. He got 6 certifications in a single year. He put in unpaid overtime when the power outage left a key client spinning up backups. His boss noticed his hard work too, even took Charles out for a beer after a late night of paperwork. That’s how Charles knew he’d be the perfect fit for the team lead role that was just created to help manage the troops.

Up until now, work was pretty easy for Charles. Most good decisions came naturally, and he was able to over-achieve by trying just a little bit. The exams he wrote took studying, but he could balance that during work hours. Sure, there were some late nights, but it was mostly easy work that meant spending more time with a few good friends he made on the team. But this was Charles’ big shot, a management spot. This was something to be proud of, something new, with this he’d be a big shot.

Of course Charles got the job. He was perfect for it. He nailed it in the interview, and he already had the respect of his colleagues. When they announced that Charles got the promotion, nobody was surprised, but everybody was happy for him, they even got him a cake.

What Charles didn’t realize was that nothing would ever be the same again. Right away he was thrown into some of the most grueling weeks of his life. He was staying at least 3 hours late each night, just to stay on top of the work. Everything was disorganized, there were emails and voicemails coming in from left and right, and it seemed like there was always a fire to put out somewhere — an angry client here, some office drama there. It was a nightmare. Depending on the day, Charles wavered between wishing he was back in the helpdesk and looking up “resignation letter templates” on Google. There was just no way the extra money and couple perks he got with this new job could possibly be worth it. The hardest part for Charles was wondering if it was just a big mistake, applying for this job.

Charles isn’t alone. While promotions are a cause for celebration, once the celebrating is over the hard work begins. Getting a promotion is a marathon, and most people tire themselves out by sprinting before they even apply for the job. What nobody ever tells you is that promotions are a radical change for any person to go through, especially when they involved completely new work, responsibilities, and earning and maintaining people’s respect.

Change is hard, even if you asked for it

Change is hard for everybody. The fact that you knowingly and willingly applied and accepted the promotion doesn’t make it any easier. You’ve been doing the same thing, every single day, for awhile now. But all of that stops with a promotion. Now your day is completely different. You’re doing different work. People see you differently, they treat you differently, and you treat them differently in return. Often times you’re learning as you go, and no company has everything documented, so you’re going to be chasing down answers to questions that nobody has.

Everything is different

If you’re lucky, you’re new position is well-established. You’re replacing someone that left on good terms, and your company has set expectations, a good job description, and you fall into a set bureaucracy with status reports, structured meetings, and channels of communication. But no matter what, nothing’s perfect. What’s already in place will have holes in them, and they’ll drive you nuts. It’ll take time to truly appreciate why those holes exist, but in the meantime, those imperfections in the (hopefully) well oiled machine will drive you nuts.

Your superpower — seeing what’s wrong

The worst part is when you look around and see what’s missing. “How do they not have a process for this?”. “How haven’t they figured this out already?”. You’re going to see problem after problem, clear as day, and that will be your own little superpower. Nobody else will see those problems as clear as you, because they’ve been living with them, day in, day out, like a bad knee that hurts when it rains. It’s normal, and it’s amazing what people can learn to live with. But until you learn to live with it, it’s going to be frustrating.

Change takes time

Lasting, effective change takes time. There’s no silver bullet for speeding things up. If you’ve just gotten a promotion, things are going to be hard for awhile. They just are. Strap in, buckle up, and be prepared. But there are things you can do to soothe the pain and make the transition easier.

  1. Recognize it’s a process, and the process takes time
  2. Get into the habit of making things better
  3. Set milestones and celebrate small victories
  4. Recognize that the problems were there before you, and you can’t fix them overnight
  5. Be kind to yourself. Meditate, exercise, do the things you love, even indulge in some of your vices. Through times of significant change, if you’re too tightly wound, you can be prone to snapping

A million small changes

Promotions aren’t one big change, they’re a series of tiny changes. Others recognize and celebrate the one big change, but you’re the one that will have to navigate the see of small changes. Remember that you’re right for the job — the hiring committee wouldn’t have picked you if you weren’t. Recognize that change takes time, and you can only do so much to increase the pace. Try to fix problems as you come across them, but don’t seek perfection. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Make things better, not perfect. Fix them and move on. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, and if you focus too long on the first things that raises it’s head, you won’t have the energy or fortitude to keep making things better, resulting in problems piling up.

The important thing is believing in yourself. You can do this. Remember that the desires of yesterday are still valid today. You’ve achieved something great. You put yourself out there, and were recognized for the hard work you’ve done. Be kind to yourself, be true to yourself, and forge ahead.

And if it doesn’t pan out, just quit — you’re nobody’s prisoner.

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