Don't repeat your years

By Marc Littlemore
4 min read

I recently attended an "away day" for the leadership team of our department. In early 2021, an "away day" obviously means another set of Zoom meetings. It was a great day of digging into the challenges of the team and there were a couple of guest speakers with amazingly inspiring talks.

One of the speakers talked about her experience in moving from being a managing director at a newspaper to becoming a business manager at the BBC. She had to work her way up again after having senior role. And then she said one thing that really resonated with me:

“Don't repeat your years.”

She'd stayed in a role for over a year because she didn't believe she was ready to take the next step up even though she had the experience. She taken the easier route because she didn't yet believe in herself and the skills she had. She did the same thing she'd done the previous year for the next 12 months.

She'd repeated her year.

Time is scarce. Life is short. I know this as I almost lost it. If you don't use your time wisely, it slips away like the sands in an hourglass. You never get that time back.

As a software engineer, and now as a team lead and manager of software engineers, I enjoy a challenge. I enjoy helping to creating a new application. I love digging through a codebase to understand how it works. I can't wait for my 1:1s with my team and to help them on to achieve their career aspirations. I love making an impact in the code or by helping my team.

But sometimes you go through the motions and find yourself no longer learning new things.

If the work lacks challenges, or even worse, you do the same things that you've done in the past month or two, it's easy to become complacent. Work shifts towards boredom and you lack the motivation to rise to new challenges. You can easily do the same thing without feeling a sense of purpose.

It's easy to repeat your years.

I read a fantastic article called "How to waste your career, one comfortable year at a time" by Apoorva Govind. It's a great post so please take the time out to read it. Apoorva lays out a framework for deciding when it's time for a change. It's an incredibly useful way to determine if you're wasting your years. She suggests looking at the following every quarter and giving yourself a score in the following areas.

  • Accomplishment - Have you achieved anything significant in the past three months?
  • Impact - Could you write a new line in your resume about the things you've worked on in the past three months? If you were hiring for a role, would you value this experience?
  • Growth or future alignment - Have you acquired valuable insights or skills? Do these align with how you want to grow into your career?
  • Challenge - Do you spend your days thinking of the challenges at work? Do you try and solve these problems in the shower? (I love it when you get to do this!)
  • Community - Are you happy to go to work every day? Even if this is on Zoom? Do you believe in the mission, vision, and leadership of the team or company?

If you mark each of these five areas together as a percentage, and you're scoring less than 50%, you have to question if you're still feeling useful in your role. If you're not then it's time to change and avoid becoming stuck in your role.

If you feel you're repeating your years, it doesn't necessarily mean a new job.

It can be moving teams.

It could be working on a project you're less familiar with.

If you have the option to do this then ask to change and see if this changes your framework scores.

If not, it might be time to think about looking for a new role elsewhere.

You have to shape your own life. It's easy to plod along and feel a lack of achievement. It's especially easy to do this in a larger organisation. But it's up to you. You have to shape your career yourself, and maybe with the help of a supportive team lead like myself.

I read an article from a palliative nurse who recorded the most common regrets of people on their deathbeds. This one stood out to me.

“I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Don't spend your own life waiting for life to happen to you.

Be proactive in doing what you want to do.

Don't repeat your years.

Marc Littlemore avatar

I'm Marc Littlemore.

I’m a Senior Software Engineering Manager who works with high performing development teams and loves to help to grow other software leaders and engineers.


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