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  • Rob Tillman

The Three Stages of a Career, and How to Win in Each Stage

We all want to win. It's an awesome feeling, and we want to experience it more often. But winning isn't always about those moments of victory. Sometimes it's about survival, and sometimes it's about letting go; it really depends on what stage you're in. Why? Because the same strategy doesn't work in every stage, and you can't win if you can't identify what stage you're in.


This is the stage we all aspire to be in when we experience more rapid career progression marked by promotions, new jobs, raised expectations and palpable rewards in the form of money, recognition and heightened levels of confidence and excitement. We all can relate to this stage when:

  • The pursuit of success is the dominant theme

  • We reap the tangible rewards that others see and want

  • We are stretched to new levels of leadership and responsibility

  • Our strengths are more demonstrable than our weaknesses

  • The pace of change is swift and powerful

  • We tend to feel more energized and enthusiastic

  • Material things in life can become more important

  • We can tend to take our success for granted

While we are enjoying success and becoming immersed in the challenges of stepping up to the next level, others are watching. Others can view us differently and even judge us as we elevate in our careers. Some of us handle this stage with grace and gratitude, but all of us can be mindful of what is going on. During the elevation stage, it's important to remember that it doesn't last forever and to stay grounded as you enjoy the high-fives.


This is the stage we will visit on multiple occasions, so it's important to take good notes. But what is happening here? This is the time when we are settling in, and it frequently comes after the buzz and fulfillment of the elevation stage. It's a natural tendency to seek stability, and renewal comes with:

  • Others seeing us in this stage before we do

  • Holding on can become more important than winning

  • Tangible rewards may not come as easily as they once did

  • Our careers may have plateaued

  • We become more aware of our weaknesses

  • The pace of change and challenge may be slowing down

  • We may feel bored or burned out

  • The people in our lives may be taken for granted

  • We want to regain the success we've had before

When you read the comments above, how did you feel? Could you relate to these feelings and observations? Chances are you remembered the times when you felt stuck or frustrated. You may even find yourself in this stage right now. That's not surprising because many of us spend the majority of our careers in this stage. Others may also see you in this stage before you do. Why is that? It's likely because our natural denial mechanisms kick in. You may recall a performance review with a boss who asks, "So how are you doing?" You may be puzzled at first, but you realize you're bored and need a hill to climb.


So, we've all decided we want to be in the elevation stage but know we're likely to spend most of our careers in the renewal stage. But what is this reinvention stage? A lot of people are talking about reinvention these days, perhaps because it captures our imagination and desire to follow our passion. But reinvention isn't just about following your passion; it's also about taking chances, trying new things, making big changes and:

  • It is likely no longer about winning or losing

  • The tangible and visible rewards are less important

  • Our career is no longer working for us like it once did

  • The awareness of our strengths and weaknesses is most important

  • The pace of change may feel out of our control

  • We want to feel reinvigorated

  • We recognize the importance of other people in our lives

  • Material things in life are viewed as excess baggage

I'm sure you can relate to many of these observations, but consider this one: "Our awareness of our strengths and weaknesses is most important during this stage." Why? Because reinvention is all about self-awareness. Think about it … we can't recapture passion and energy and make big changes in our careers without a sharpened sense of self-awareness.

How to Win

Now that you know the three stages of a career, how can you be successful no matter what stage you find yourself in?

  • Don't get stuck in linear thinking. While we may think of our careers on a timeline, the stages of a career don't necessarily happen in the order of elevation-renewal-reinvention. A career doesn't move forward in a straight line.

  • Take good notes along the way. Knowing that we will pass this way again provides us with the opportunity to apply what we've learned and to improve our chances of success the next time around. We will revisit each stage again in our careers.

  • Think about others and be kind. You will not be alone on the journey, and thinking about how the change will impact the people around you will not only improve your chances of success but also make the ride much more enjoyable. People are important in our careers.

  • Don't be afraid to be authentic and vulnerable. In order to know what career stage you're in, you need to see and appreciate what is going on. Just because you look like you're successful doesn't mean you are. Raising your self-awareness is central to success.

  • Focus on the journey and not on the money. While we all want to win and winning can be measured in compensation, listen and learn from those who've gone before us. Success isn't about money and material rewards.


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