Quit: Work and mediocrity


Mpho just got another promotion. He worked for a software company in Johannesburg, and, over the last fourteen years, he has had a wide range of jobs.

For the first seven or eight years, Mpho was in business development and sales. He handled big accounts account for a while, flying to Cape Town, Nairobi, Nigeria, Washington every six weeks or so.

It was hard on his family, but he was really focused, and really good.

Two years ago, Mpho got a huge promotion. He was put in charge of his entire division, 50 people, the second biggest group in the company.

Mpho attacked the job with gusto and relish. In addition to spending even more time on the road, he did a great job of handling internal management issues.

A month ago, for a variety of good reasons, Mpho got a sideways promotion. Same level, but a new team of analysts reporting to him.

Now he is in charge of strategic alliances. He is well respected, he has done just about every job, and he makes a lot of money.

Imagine the conversation you could have with him:

“You have been there a long time, my friend.”

Mpho will not buy it:

“Yes, I have been here fourteen years, but I have had seven jobs. When I got here, we were a startup, but now we are a big company. I have new challenges, and the travel is great….”

Go on, interrupt him.

Mpho needs to leave for a very simple reason. He has been branded. Everyone at the company has an expectation of who Mpho is and what he can do.

Working your way up from the mail-order room to CEO position sounds very sexy, but, in fact, it is unlikely. Possible but unlikely.

Mpho has hit a plateau.

He is not going to be challenged, pushed, or promoted to CEO.

Mpho, regardless of what he could actually accomplish, has stopped evolving, at least in the eyes of the people who matter.

If he leaves and joins another company, he gets to reinvent himself.

No one in the new company will remember young Mpho, the Mpho with an endless upside and little past.

Our parents and grandparents believed you should stay at a job for five years, ten years, or even your whole life.

But in a world where companies come and go, where they grow from nothing to big listed companies on the securities exchange and the disappear, all in a few years, that is just not possible.

Here is the deal, and where is what I told Mpho when we spoke recently:

The time to look for a new job is when you don’t need one. The time to switch jobs is before it feels comfortable.

Go. Switch. Challenge yourself, get yourself a raise and a promotion.

You owe it to your career and your skills.

It is easier to be mediocre than it is to confront reality and quit.

Quitting is difficult.

Quitting requires you to acknowledge that you are never going to be #1 in the world, at least not at this.

So it is easier just to put it off, to procrastinate, not admit it, and settle for mediocre.

What a waste of talent.

The longer you stay in that same position, the more mediocre you become.

This is one instance where it is okay to quit.


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