Proficiency gives you job satisfaction but growth creates happiness. If you want to be satisfied with your work then be proficient, but if you want to be happy then you must grow!
It was early evening and I was patrolling in my police car. I’d been a cop and on my own for only a little bit. Uncharacteristically, I had the windows down and was enjoying the cool fall breeze when suddenly the radio erupted with calls for service. It was as if the entire city went crazy in one brief moment. One after another, each of the twenty units on duty began to be dispatched to some problem. Knowing my time was coming, I wondered what type of call I would receive. Would it be easy or hard, a larceny, domestic abuse, suspicious person, fight?
Up until this point in my career, I had always felt a little pinch of nervousness when I knew I was about to receive a call as I wondered what type it would be and most importantly, as a newbie could I handle it. On this night, I didn’t feel anything. For the first time there was no apprehension and I can distinctly remember thinking that it didn’t matter what kind of call I received. I was ready and could handle any call.
I had finally become proficient at my job!
It was an amazing feeling and professionally, it was one of my biggest moments as a cop. Personally however, it was the beginning of a long slow decline in my happiness. Looking back, I now know what happened and I wonder if you’ve experienced this before or worse…if you’re feeling it now.
I’m talking about the feeling that even though you like what you do, and you’re good at what you do, the work that was so exciting in the beginning has sadly become old, rote, mundane, and incredibly boring regardless of the fact that your days are crazy busy.
If this is you, don’t beat yourself up. It happened to me. It’s just a part of being human and a natural byproduct of the fact that we are at our happiest when we’re growing. Learning a new job requires growth. Becoming proficient requires growth. However, remaining proficient doesn’t. You’ve already mastered the job—why keep growing? The problem with this of course is that proficiency gives you job satisfaction but growth creates happiness. This is one reason why we have thousands of teachers, principals, SRO’s, counselors, social workers, and others who are proficient but unhappy.
If you want to be happy you must have growth.
Don’t get me wrong. Proficiency is good. You’re expected to be proficient—people are counting on you to be proficient—you’re getting paid to be proficient, but proficiency is what you owe to others. Growth is what you owe to yourself. The more proficient you become the better your organization can function. The more you grow the happier you can function.
Some might say that you can keep growing by doing your job better each day. That’s true except that kind of growth tends to be incremental and small while real growth is exponential and huge. Just think about how much you had to learn in order to become proficient in your job as compared to how much you must learn to remain proficient in your work. For most people, I’m guessing it’s a massive difference. The truth is that I didn’t understand the relationship of proficiency versus growth and it hurt my quality of life. It wouldn’t be until I became a School Resource Officer that I was once again forced to grow…really grow and with that growth my happiness began to thrive again and my love for my work increased once again.
As we begin 2020, I’d like to share 5 lessons I learned about growth and proficiency to help you have a happy new year!
1. Don’t leave just yet...
If you feel like you no longer have passion for what you do, don’t leave or let others leave just yet. It may not be an issue of being done with the job but one of low growth and therefore low happiness. Passion led you to this work! Deep down inside you may still really like your job—maybe even love your job and the remedy may be to simply reenergize your growth.
I gave serious thought to leaving law enforcement and becoming a fire fighter. I was even offered a job running a pizza shop making three times as much as I did as a cop, but something kept holding me back. None of it filled me with excitement, not like what I experienced in my early days as a cop. Then I was offered the role of SRO and everything changed. Suddenly I was in a high growth position that every day forced me to keep growing. It is not surprising that I quickly loved being a cop again and that I loved being an SRO!
I didn’t need to leave—I just needed to kick start my growth!
2. Be a Madden…
Vikings head coach John Madden attended a presentation given by the legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Madden admits that he was skeptical that Lombardi could teach him anything about football, especially since Lombardi was only going to discuss one play. A simple hand-off to the side of the center. Madden confessed that after eight hours, he left the seminar thoroughly convinced that he in fact didn’t know anything about football.
You’d be surprised how much you don’t know and how much room you still have for growth! Be a Madden and be willing to accept the fact that you don’t know it all and that there is still a great deal you can learn about your profession!
3. Become an expert…
There’s two parts necessary to becoming an expert. The first is obtaining a deep knowledge of specific information and the second is being able to translate that information into something helpful. Obtaining knowledge is easy. It just takes time and effort. Translating that knowledge into something that the average person can use is much more difficult. It takes time, effort, deep thought, a critical eye, and lots of trial and error.
You may already have decades worth of study in a specific topic—but can you translate it into something helpful? If not, here is a fantastic place for unbelievable growth. Nothing has given me greater personal growth than being forced to explain to others how to prevent violence. If I kept the knowledge to myself, I would benefit. If I share it with others, everyone can benefit. But it has taken me lots of practice, self-evaluation, and even role playing.
Here’s what I do…
I take an instance where a parent, student, teacher, friend, co-worker—refused to follow my advice because they didn’t understand me or couldn’t comprehend what I was saying because I did a poor job of getting the point across. I repeat that episode in my head and practice explaining it better and more succinctly until it is easy for the person to understand and utilize the information. And I don’t go easy on myself. I substitute myself as the person and pretend I’m a hostile witness, throwing rebuttals until the other me explains it well enough.
It’s not good enough that you know something. You must be able to share what you know!
4. Raise your standards…
If you’re a teacher, watch the most viewed TEDx presentations and evaluate the speaker. What did they do right? What can you copy for your classroom?
Long before there was TEDx, I would visit the 3 best teachers in my school. I’d sit in their classroom and watch them present. Those were uncomfortable days. Not for them, but for me! Like Madden, each time I left the classroom I realized that I didn’t know anything about teaching. It was painfully obvious that their standards were not mine and that mine were way too low.
Raise your standards! Pick those who you feel are the best and adopt their standards! Again, don’t go easy on yourself. If you’re not made uncomfortable by the gap between you and them, you’re aiming too low.
Remember what Michelangelo said… “It is better to aim high and miss it than aim too low and hit it.”
5. Read, watch, listen…
I don’t know of any other way of growing if you’re not learning. Not all learning is the same. The best kind of learning is the kind that gives you knowledge which leads to wisdom. Wisdom is the art of living a happy life.
Every now and then I read a book, watch a video, or listen to a podcast that I completely and hopelessly disagree with whether it’s the author or the points that he or she is trying to make. I do this in order to challenge what I believe in. It’s not enough to simply tell someone why they’re wrong. You also must be able to articulate why you’re right.
I have found that when I do this it helps me to see the subject in a more critical manner which leads to better understanding the topic with helps me to grow personally.
How much should you read?
That’s up to you. I’ll say this though…how much time do you spend on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram?
Spend that much time…:)
I totally understand why most people achieve proficiency and stop growing. Proficiency is easy, nice, comfortable—it’s exactly what you’ve been working towards! You’ve reached your goal why not stop? I also understand that some days that’s all you need or want to give. Life can be hard. I get that too. Growth is hard. It requires greater effort. Unlike proficiency, growth requires putting yourself in a dangerous position because as long as you’re growing you’re prone to make mistakes and mistakes leave you open to discomfort and criticism. If you’re not working in a high growth organization where forgiveness is given, growth is nearly impossible because people are afraid to try. Don’t accept this low standard. Ask for and give forgiveness freely!
We should all be striving to be the best, but to be the best we must grow. You must grow if you want to have the best school. You must grow if you want to have the best family, police department, community, country, and society.
You must grow if you want to be happy!
As we start this New Year, let us all strive to be more proficient in our work as well as reach higher levels of growth. Without a doubt, we need both in this life—growth and proficiency.
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