July 21, 2021

Three Categories of Work

Three ways of working and how to level up

As you navigate your career, you’ll likely either work to build products (ie: hardware, software, furniture, etc) and/or solve challenges with your knowledge (accounting, legal, design, data management, coaching, etc).

For the latter, there are three categories of work:

Demonstrating Skills
At first, you get hired. This signifies people are willing to take a chance on your skills. You’ve demonstrated that you know at least some of the tools for a specific challenge and someone is willing to pay you to implement them. You’re joining teams, being given tasks, building with what you know, and learning on the fly.

Solving Problems
As you grow, people begin seeking you out not because you have the skills, but because you have a track record of solving problems. You’ve developed the capacity to pause, ask the right questions, and deploy your knowledge of the tools to unlock potential. Now, you might be managing a team or overseeing an entire project.

Leading the Way
Eventually, people may come to you because you’ve developed a specific point of view for how you see and do the work. Maybe you’ve even built your own tools. You’re not just doing the work, or thinking about how to solve problems — you’re able to envision entirely new destinations and you can help people get there. Now, you might be designing entire programs and initiatives from the ground up, building the team, making key decisions, and leading everything from start to finish.

There’s no obligation to move from one to the other (they often overlap). Many people have built rewarding and fulfilling lives at all levels. The more time you spend in each, the better you’ll become in that area.

Learning to Level Up
If you do aspire to move between them, remain a student of the work. Not necessarily at an institution or university, but in your own daily practice. Learn from your environment, your successes, and your own reflections. As you grow, people may give you praise and more responsibility, which is affirming, but don’t let it get to your head. Keep doing the work with curiosity and even a dose of joy.

Because no matter where you find yourself, the world doesn’t need experts, it needs people who never stop being students.

Illustration Credit:Timo Kuilder

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