The Importance of Allocating Time for Self-Reflection
26 July, 2020
As a Director of Engineering responsible for 45 people, I would diligently go through reviews of my team members evaluating if they were improving and learning something new or pushing the limits of their knowledge and getting out of their comfort zone. While meticulous about others, I didn’t practice with the same rigor self-reflection. I was devoted to ensuring that engineers on my team were happy and progressing, but I didn’t spend enough time on that myself. There was always a fire to fight, my calendar was overcrowded and it was hard for me to find some downtime to sit down and reflect on things. In addition, the focus was always on executing, and executing fast.
Then, two years ago, I realized that something was missing. I was performing well but I felt I was stagnating -- I was not exposed enough to new learnings and I was stuck in the comfort zone.
I reached out to mentors on different platforms, including Plato, to discuss my situation and seek advice. I was curious if I could spend more time being involved in tech projects without falling into micromanaging. I wanted to spend some time just digging into tech problems and doing some more coding. I would reshuffle my calendar to free up some time for getting involved in tech things and more hands-on work. In addition, once per quarter, I would be spending more time with engineers delving deep into one specific project.
At that time, I was also reading a lot; I was particularly intrigued by the engineer-manager pendulum as a legitimate career choice. The idea of going back and forth between being an engineer and a manager was inspiring because it was not portrayed as something unfavorable -- on the contrary. Also, I was reading on different types of career ladders and I realized that it is not always a perfect fork with two separate paths, an IC and a manager path.
But after a while, I realized that reading and blocking time in my calendar was not enough -- I had to change a role. This, I believed, was not possible within the same company. I was lucky to have an opportunity to talk to other companies; I was approached by recruiters and I realized that the roles I found the most interesting were not management ones.
I went for interviews at various companies that opened the new horizon of possibilities. At that time I was a Director of Engineering and I was wondering if in the same role but at a different company, I would feel more challenged. Also, mentors supplied me with a myriad of options to consider. Eventually, I did change the role. I left my previous company and went back to a more IC role and I became much happier.
- You could read all the books in the world and talk with an infinite number of mentors but to learn what really makes you happy you have to listen to yourself. The data before me was suggesting that I should stay on my old career path, but I inherently knew that I needed to change something. To understand what I needed to change, I had to forget about data and delve into the realm of my subjective self.
- What matters is not how people perceive you from the outside, but how you feel about your work from the inside. Self-reflection is a path to understand that. Therefore, by all means, find time to engage in self-reflection even with a full calendar and tight deadlines.
- Don’t try to fit in a specific bucket. Each company tailors career ladders to match a company’s needs and they differ greatly. At one company one role could mean one thing, at other -- something completely different. So, roles are fuzzy things and you should pick yours to match your needs.
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