Liz Wiseman headshot
Liz Wiseman, president of Wiseman Group Courtesy of Wiseman Group

How to stay excited about your career? Never take a job you’re qualified for

Nov 11, 2014

MPW Insider Network is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. This week, we ask: How do you stay excited about your job? The following is an answer by Liz Wiseman, president of Wiseman Group and author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.

The surest way to stay excited about your work is to avoid jobs that you are actually qualified for.

I was thrown into management at the tender age of 24, just a year out of business school, while working for Oracle Corporation (orcl). They made me head of training across the entire company and charged me with building a corporate university. I didn’t feel ready for management, and the job was more than a few sizes too big, but it seemed unwise to turn down a promotion. A year later, I was asked to globalize Oracle University in more than 100 countries. This seemed like a job most companies would ask a full-fledged adult to do. But I didn’t have time to second-guess myself; I had a lot to learn, and quickly.

About a year later, my vice president, Bob Shaver, introduced me to an executive who worked for one of Oracle’s clients. When Bob told him that I ran Oracle University, the client flinched with noticeable surprise. Bob assured him, “Yes, Liz isn’t technically that qualified…but she’s bright and doing a great job.” I retorted, “Bob, if you are qualified, what’s to learn? I never want a job I’m qualified for.”

After 15 thrilling years, my learning curve eventually flattened, and I came to a troubling realization: I was, at last, legitimately qualified for my role. The exhilaration was gone. So I ventured out in search of something I didn’t know how to do (teaching other executives to lead.) Sure enough, in this virgin terrain, work was again exciting.

I began to see that the best jobs are often the ones we’re not “ready” for. In our rookie state a certain genius gets sparked and a learner’s advantage kicks in. When we are stretched beyond our current capabilities, we can tap into a different mindset—what I have come to call rookie smarts—where we perform at our best and revel in the thrill of learning.

If you’ve started to settle into your job, it might be time to take a role for which you aren’t fully qualified. Here are some ways you can “disqualify yourself:”

Take a job in a new domain
If you’ve been running a consumer products marketing team, perhaps you need to venture over to the enterprise product division and learn how to lead in a new market.

Take on a stretch challenge
Tackle a challenge that is a size or two too big. You don’t need to leave your job; just move to the frontier by pushing yourself to the outer limit of what you know how to do.

Take on a broader role
Maybe it’s time to take your divisional program to the next level and champion the initiative across the entire company.

Borrow a job
If you can’t upsize your current role, try temporarily swapping jobs with a colleague in an adjacent area for a day or week. Use the exchange to gain new insights and bring renewed energy to your current job.

What if someone isn’t willing to take a chance on you? Then this might be one of those occasions when it’s best to just show up for the party rather than wait for an invitation. Don’t unilaterally seize control of a bigger job, but do take the initiative to work beyond the scope of your current job. Ask your manager what work you can take off her plate. Start small and prove yourself.

Whatever you do, just don’t linger too long in a job that you’re qualified for. Work on the steep side of a learning curve. Not only will you keep performing at your best, you’ll engage your creative energies and feel on top of the world.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you stay excited about your job?

Don't get comfortable by Deanie Elsner, EVP and CMO of Kraft Foods Group.

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