Deep down we all want to feel like we’re one of a kind. Feeling irreplaceable. I guess we are to some of our loved ones, but what does it mean to be irreplaceable at work?
I always try to work myself out of a job! No, not to get fired, but to make the role better and mentor the people around it (especially my reports), so that it doesn’t need me. Or even better, automate it! It sounds weird to want to work yourself out of a job but hear me out. I get to learn everything about that role, optimise it and move on to other, new and exciting things. The cycle never ends, the learning never stops. So, if someone tells me that I’m irreplaceable in a work situation, I’ll clench! This is what it means for me;
1. I may have over-specialised in a niche area.
Being the best at something is great, however, for me, over-specialising in a niche is not the path I hope for. I like to consider myself a generalist, with multipotentiality. Therefore, specialising in a niche would feel like a prison. An example; my educational background is in construction engineering, with a master’s in digital construction (I know, I was riding that road to specialising!). If I narrowed it down even further and became a digital construction engineer, focusing on methane mining technology, that would’ve been very cool. There aren’t many of those available! But that’s the downside as well, there aren’t that many. I will have incredibly deep knowledge of one subject matter, that won’t be easily transferrable to other industries. If I stay longer and learn enough in that role, I become irreplaceable. If you’re a half-glass kind of person, this is nothing but a life accomplishment. If you’re like me, a ‘who introduced this glass analogy’ kind of person, then this can easily be a nightmare. Especially if you’re looking to change things up.
2. I have hit a ceiling
In this situation, there are two instances. The first has to do with my skills, i.e., my skills have not evolved beyond my initial engagement. Or, my skills are not applicable beyond my initial engagement. We all believe we’re constantly growing, and it can be tough to realise you didn’t or didn’t do it as fast as you thought. I try to keep track of my growth using written goals, as a measure to see if I’m learning. I also keep track of my responsibilities, have these evolved 6 months in a new place, or am I still doing exactly what I did on day 1? Lastly, I ask my peers about my strengths and improvement areas, and I evaluate the different possibilities they can unlock for me.
The second has to do with company cultures; they too can also put a ceiling on you. If your company or employer does not foster, or even worse, actively anchors your learning and growing, you are bound to hit a career ceiling. These situations can be detrimental, as it may take a long time before you realise your environment isn’t optimised for your success. A few questions I tend to ask myself: How involved is my manager in my career growth within the company? How is the company facilitating my success within it? Are new ideas encouraged? Do I have any autonomy with my role?
I’d like to end by saying that I’m no career coach. This is my startup journey experience. However, there are loads of fantastic articles on this topic such as; Deconstruction of career growth (specifically for software engineers, but the principles apply across other disciplines) and Hiking as a career growth analogy.
Every week I share a piece of my startup journey. My pits and highs, my embarrassing moments, my ‘why do we do it like that’ moments and many more. Feel free to share widely as I am always looking for industry leaders to collaborate with.
Stay tuned for next week’s article; The English Advantage, where I share tech career insights from coders, engineers, and product leads who aren’t native English speakers/ speak more than 1 African language. Key to learning; teaching English is a key form of talent upskilling and we need more localised content.