I attended a women in technology conference recently — and I’m still thinking about a piece of advice I heard come from the stage. One of the moderators suggested, along with one of the panelists, that sometimes you need to volunteer for a “crap assignment” that no one else wants in order to get the experience you might need to advance your career.
Several of us left that session scratching our heads. A few women later confessed they thought of getting up and walking out of the session. Why would we want to encourage women to take the “crap assignment” to get ahead? (Confession: what really made my blood boil was that it was coming from a man.)
I have to admit, it’s still ringing in my ears.
After giving it more thought, there are certain circumstances in which this could actually be a good idea:
(1) The assignment aligns with your strengths
If you get to roll up your sleeves, do what you’re best at, show others your natural talents and increase your contribution, then I say “Go for it!”
Honestly, I’ve taken on many “crap assignments” through the years that no one else wanted BUT I knew they were opportunities to do work I loved.
If that’s not the case for you with an assignment you’re considering, then I say “Proceed with caution.”
(2) Your values will be satisfied
When you’re clear on your values — those aspects of your work life that are non-negotiable — and you use them in your decision making process to evaluate opportunities, you’ll increase your chances for overall satisfaction.
For example, if one of your core values is “creativity” and the assignment requires strict adherence to existing procedures, you may feel uninspired to do this work. Or, perhaps one of your values is “autonomy” but the assignment includes being micro-managed.
Realistically, there are pros and cons to most opportunities. The key is to ask yourself, “If I take this on, will my needs be met?”
Whatever the situation is, it’s helpful to know how it will align with your needs BEFORE you raise your hand.
If you take on an assignment where your values are not being honored, you may feel disappointed, frustrated, resentful and even angry.
(3) It’s a step closer to your longer term vision
If you’re going to be doing work you’re good at AND your values will be satisfied, the next question is, “How will this assignment help you step closer to your longer term vision?”
If it will give you the opportunity to show others what you’re capable of, that’s a clear selling point.
You may see this as a stepping stone to the next role you have your eye on. Or you realize it’s a chance to do much more of what you like to do.
I’ve taken this path myself. I’ve accepted roles and projects that no one else wanted — and benefitted greatly.
I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that you’re going to be taking that on. That’s too bad.”
I would always laugh and say, “Actually, I’m really excited about it!” and I’d share a little slice of my vision.
I saw the hidden gem waiting to be revealed. I saw potential in the situation to have a significant impact, doing what I loved.
I wish the same for you!
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