They call it a plateau. It’s that comfortable place we can get to in our careers or even in our businesses. Things are going well, on paper, and putting things on cruise control is super enticing.
It can also be the most dangerous time any of us can experience professionally. As scary as a set-back or transition can seem, nothing should be less scary than being in a professional plateau. Because, while we try to ignore it, the potential risk that a plateau presents professionally far exceeds all others.
Years ago, in the industrial economy, we could get away with being in a plateau for some time. Industries were more stable long term and jobs stuck around for a much longer period of time. If you were in a plateau, you could survive, your position was probably not going anywhere anytime soon.
Not so today. Stability is not something we get to experience in any industry for more than a couple of years. And the definition of long term employment has changed from twenty plus years to about five in under fifteen. In-demand skills, experiences, and knowledge change faster than at any other time in history.
The comfort we used to look for is irrelevance in disguise. Every moment that we are not challenging ourselves, moving toward what is next, and questioning where our current skill set can meet future needs, the economy moves forward without us. It’s not that we can’t be happy, content or comfortable in the here and now, it’s simply that we have to define those things in the context of learning, of growing, and being naturally inspired by what we are doing right now.
Deep down, when we are honest with ourselves, we know that without that growth, learning, and inspiration, we’re not really comfortably anyway. We were never meant to be on cruise control, it’s not a natural state, and the comfort we think we feel isn’t the actual experience. Inside, the part of us we are ignoring, the one that knows our potential, is screaming, keeping us up at night, and creating a void that cannot be filled with anything but the next real challenge.
Plateau’s are simply the false summits that keep us from experiencing real engagement. We can either lie to ourselves, trying desperately to convince ourselves that we are happy, content, and doing just fine, or we can put on our big kid pants, take a risk, find a challenge, and move forward into that scary and exciting next hill to climb. Both are scary, but only one will create the real comfort, internal and external, that we are truly seeking.