Nobody wants to be bad at their job. Most people aren't, but most aren't excellent even when they could be with just a few small changes. Why hold yourself back just because you want to stay in your comfort zone? Here are 10 actions I've taken that have helped me crush it at my job as a QA:
1. Deliberately focusing on improving communication skills
This can't be overstated. If you want to get the most out of life, you have to know how to talk to people. I'm an introvert by nature, and love being left alone most of the time. My fiancee and I are both like this and often take a few hours for ourselves every few days to just do our own thing in different rooms.
At work, this isn't usually possible, and even if it is, you don't want to be doing this. When you don't build rapport with your teammates and management, you are missing out on the benefit of good rapport. It may not be fair, but life seldom is. The people who have great working relationships tend to get away with more things, tend to get promoted more often, tend to get the best projects, and tend to have less work-related stress.
Now a disclaimer: this is absolutely not why you should build these relationships. If you're only concerned about using people for personal gain, they'll be repelled by you because it'll be obvious. Instead, think in terms of your personal contribution to the team, in terms of the intangibles you can offer people. You can lift people's mood with a good conversation or a compliment; you can provide ideas people may have overlooked; you can stop bad ideas from going through if you can professionally voice your disagreement with those ideas.
In other words, your light should be shining at work. Your ability to communicate well determines how brightly you can shine.
2. Prioritizing mental & physical health
In tech, you aren't lifting heavy objects, but you are using your brain to solve problems and make decisions all day. Too much of this leads to decision fatigue. If you don't want your mind to burn out, you have to take care of your body. That means what you eat & drink, how much of it, how often you're exercising and what type of exercise you do, and much more.
This may not be an easy one for many people, since the stats show the world is becoming quite sedentary in our convenient technological bubbles. That said, nothing worthwhile ever is easy, right? So think about 1 small change you could make. Go for a walk on your lunch break, eat something better 1 day a week, maybe limit the amount of your favorite snack that you're allowed to consume in 1 sitting. Small steps are important because they're the only sustainable path to more small steps, and soon you'll be making big steps. Anyway, you get the idea.
3. Obsessively learning as much about the job and the company as possible
"The more you know," as the meme goes. Knowledge is power. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Knowing your job is good. Knowing your department is great. Knowing the organization is a surefire way to get noticed. It all goes back to your individual contribution. All of this does, by the way.
If you know more, you can have informed opinions about more of the company's operations. You can also position yourself to be the helping hand when the usual person is not there to do the required work. That said, everything has limits. It's not an issue if you know a lot about the company or your job's domain, but it can become an issue if you stretch yourself too thin. There's a difference between trying to know everything and trying to do everything (also, you can never really know everything). You will look worse if you try to do other people's jobs without doing your own first. Also, you'll look worse if you don't get the "stamp of approval" to help out with duties outside your department.
In general, it's best to have an appetite for knowledge, a deep-seated curiosity, and a growth mindset. But it's good to have personally established boundaries, too. Make sure you continue to excel at your job description before you try to branch out or you won't be taken seriously. Again, going back to your individual contribution, be strategic in making sure you can offer the maximum amount of value. That includes ensuring people know you are loyal to your priorities and can be relied on to do your assigned work.
4. Playing the long game
If you want to climb a mountain, you have to pace yourself. With your career, make sure you're not expecting life-changing results overnight. That means planning for things to take longer, too.
I've made sure that whenever possible, I'm not putting myself in a situation where I depend on things to go more quickly. I tend to play it safe and make sure I'm always in a decent financial position no matter how close to my lofty career goal I am. There's an argument to be made for the psychological benefits of putting the heat on if you know it has a high likelihood of paying off in the short-term. But generally, when you can't guarantee an outcome, don't expect it, and plan as if you were not going to get what you want for a long, long time. Find ways to motivate yourself that don't involve upending your life.
Putting yourself in an adequate environment to support your work over the long haul is going to pay off, as well. Make sure you can feel good wherever you spend the most time because that'll influence how productive you end up being.
5. Collaborating with coworkers, not competing with them.
Help. Help some more. Help whenever you can. It's like Uncle Ben says (not the rice): "With great power comes great responsibility."
The more value you add to yourself, the more value you have an obligation to give to others. The people around you should grow proportionally more valuable as you do. This of course means that slacking off hurts everyone around you. But the more energy you put into mentoring, guiding, answering questions, offering help, stepping up to lead, etc., the more everyone is going to benefit from your presence. This is always, always a good thing.
You should want your coworkers to have more resources because that not only benefits them, but it boomerangs right back to you when you happen to need help. Those people may go on to do amazing things because of something you did, and that's not to say they owe you anything for that, but it's a tangible outcome that should motivate you to make the world a better place one tiny share at a time.
If you try to be better than your coworkers, first of all, nobody's better objectively. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses that are tangible and intangible, known and unknown. Every single person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. To compete implies that you are "less than," according to yourself. To feel "less than" another coworker does nobody any good. So don't compete in the first place because it's a trap. It's a mindset that places the team on a hierarchy of good-to-bad, and it is always going to hurt someone.
The Big Takeaway:
Offer value to people because it's better for the world to be full of awesome people who are super capable and who spread good vibes. Your individual contribution gets the world closer to that goal.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I enjoy hearing any feedback you have to offer, for or against my list.