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Think quick: What are your career goals for the next year? For the next five?
You can probably answer these questions easily, or at least give an answer that makes you sound good to your boss or prospective employer. After all, we live in a culture that is obsessed with advancement — and we’re trained to always strive for the next thing, whether buying a bigger house, taking a next-level vacation or advancing our careers.
But what if you’ve realized that you’re content in your current position, and that you actually don’t want a big promotion? Maybe you want the flexibility to pursue other passions, you really love the work you’re doing right now or a management role just has zero appeal to you.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to be honest with yourself and your employer. Here’s how to evaluate whether you’re really happy with your current position, and how to say “no thanks” to advancement opportunities without derailing your career.
Decide on Your Priorities
The first and most important conversation to have about your career goals is an internal one. If you’re feeling hesitant to advance, ask yourself why.
Start by examining the main areas of your life, like family, social life, career, health, hobbies and other passions, and rank them accordingly, advises Heather Patterson, a coach and consultant who helps people find happiness at work.
If your career is in the top three, you may want to invest the time and energy to advance. However, if it’s fallen to the end of the list and you know you want to focus elsewhere, it’s OK to put advancement on the back burner. Check in with yourself at least annually to evaluate whether your priorities have shifted.
Don’t Confuse Contentment With Fear
“Do a gut check to make sure that you’re not underestimating yourself or holding yourself back because of fear,” says Dr. Patricia Thompson, an executive coach with Silver Lining Psychology, a corporate psychology and management consulting firm.
Thompson suggests making a list of the reasons why you’re not interested in advancing. If most of those have to do with your skills, you should focus on building confidence in those areas and discuss with your boss how the company can help you develop.
Know What You Want From Your Job
What needs does your job ultimately fulfill? For example, do you rely on your career for financial security, or do your day-to-day tasks make you feel like you’re creating real change? Consider what is most important to you, and how advancement (or passing it up) might impact that.
“If you don’t want to move up because you really love what you’re doing and see that another job wouldn’t give you the same opportunity to engage in the day-to-day tasks that you’re passionate about, then you might just be content with what you’re doing now,” Thompson says.
Have a Conversation With Your Boss
Once you’ve realized that you’re happy with your current role, it’s best to clue your boss in, too. “Having the conversation allows everyone to be on the same page and use their time and energy in the best way,” Patterson explains.
Of course, you don’t need to blurt it out in the middle of your next one-on-one. Unless you’re currently in the running for a promotion (in which case, this news is best shared as soon as possible), it makes sense to wait for a natural opening, like your yearly performance review. Your boss will likely ask about what you want to be doing more of, or how you see your career progressing, making this a good time to let her know exactly where you stand.
Leave the Door Open
When you do talk to your boss, emphasize that you are still dedicated to your current position, even if you’re not interested in the corner office.
“Focus the conversation around what you do want, as opposed to what you don't want,” Patterson says. Stay positive and remind your boss about the ways that you can benefit your company in your current position, perhaps by mentoring a junior employee or streamlining the processes that you oversee.
“Regardless of whether you want to move into other positions in the future, focus on continuing to grow and develop in your current role,” Thompson says. “That way, you’ll be able to stay challenged at the job, while still potentially giving yourself the opportunity to take on other responsibilities should your situation change.”