After graduating university, I started working as a software project manager and my career was moving only upwards: more projects, more responsibilities, process management, people management. At a certain point, I headed a department with 130 people and I expected to feel accomplished and successful. Instead, and to my utter surprise, I was unhappy, frustrated, and I didn’t like going to work.

Why? Why after I was doing everything right? I graduated 4th in my class at the American University in Bulgaria. I had a career plan. Learned new things, acquired new skills, changed the industry, was in the process of receiving an MBA from another American university. What and where went wrong? Why wasn’t I enjoying my well-earned success?

Turned out the answer was easy, retrospectively. My manager back then was (and still is) a man with incredible vision and talent to recognize other people’s talents. He figured out the issue and solved it by guiding me to the correct professional field. It was very clear (to him) that the operational work wasn’t for me, so he gave me projects to manage. It was very clear (to him) that I liked leading people only in project environment – when we were gathered to reach point B coming from point A and then we moved on to the next challenge, and not in an operations environment – daily tasks, schedules, client and team problems, so he gave me to coordinate people who don’t report directly to me. And everything magically fell back into place. My productivity, effectiveness, and motivation quickly returned back to their usual high levels, as well as my professional happiness and satisfaction.

The global questions, however, were still bothering me. What now? What would happen to my career? How would I grow and develop? How would I work the corporate ladder? What would be my next goal when the standard vertical promotion is not for me?

Turned out that the vertical way is one of 5. And the others?

1. Horizontal: if you are not moving up, but instead going to your side – is it really growth? Of course. If you are in a corporate sales team, for example, especially in an industry with long sales cycles, you can always go into the different parameters of the corporate sales: bid management, technical consultancy, pricing, risk management, etc. You gather new skills and knowledge in the different fields as well as in the sales process, learn new topics and get to know different teams.

2. Enrichment: if you are not working in a big team, you can always grow and develop your current position.

3. Exploratory: Procter & Gamble nailed this process. As a new employee, you can join a rotational program under which you can change your focus every 2 years for a maximum of 5 cycles. After that, you need do choose and be chosen for your more permanent assignment after you figured out your talents and interests. In this way you can try accounting, financial analysis, marketing, sales, and all other functions that a fast moving consumer good company has to offer. If your company doesn’t offer such as structured process, you can always talk to your manager about your professional appeals and ask for permission to learn more about them, within the company.

4. Stepping back: you have been promoted to a people management position and it becomes clear that you much rather do individual or more technical work. There is no shame in talking to your manager and asking for your old position, in which you can grow into a better specialist.

5. Relocation: of course, there is always the possibility that you can’t reach your career potential at your current company, and after you’ve tried all the options, you can decide to look for a better fit outside.

Is this you? Do you need a career coaching session to define your next professional step – in the company you are currently working for or somewhere else? Get in touch with me to discuss more about how can I be of service.

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