I believe our growth is in our hands, just like I believe we're responsible for our lives. I believe that improving our current situation is our responsibility. Our career growth, our life growth, etc are all in our hands.
I believe this because it makes it easier for me to decide what to do next. It reduces the number of variables that I need to account for whenever I want to make a change in my life at the cost of putting all the pressure and load on my shoulders. I would rather be fully accountable for the things that happen to me than making others accountable for these things and loosing the ability of changing them.
Of course, the world is not black and white. While I decide to believe that I'm the only one responsible for my growth, there are other aspects that need to be taken under consideration. The number of variables to account for in every little thing that happens in our life is insanely high.
I love examples so bear with me while I try to come up with a, perhaps realistic, one.
Say you're a junior developer and you feel like you deserve a promotion. While this is something you're responsible for - working towards that promotion, that is - calling your manager to say that you'll use the "Senior" title starting next week won't cut it.
Being responsible for your growth means having clear expectations, interactions, and actions with the people and elements that will affect your growth. For instance, you can't expect to get a promotion if all you do is read social media at work without completing your tasks or without pushing yourself to new challenges that will help you learn new things. Likewise, it's hard to reach such promotion if there are no clear expectations and communications with your manager or the person that will eventually give you such promotion (this is true even if you are the one that will promote yourself).
The latter is the point that I would like to spend some extra time on in this post. The interactions with your manager are critical. You should start evaluating if your manager is right for you if you don't feel comfortable talking to him/her. There's no need to have conversations about how your dog is doing but it's essential to talk about your career path, your expectations, your goals, etc. I've done this with every manager I've had in my career and I believe you should too.
I believe managers should encourage their team to grow, they should help building a growth path and make sure the team feels great and is enabled to do their work but for them to be able to do this, there needs to be a clear communication between your manager and yourself. I hardly doubt managers can read minds and, remember, you're responsible for your growth, which means you're responsible for setting your expectations straight. If you don't pick up the phone and talk to your manager, I'd say you're not taking responsibility of your own growth. If you want your manager to know what you need or want, then you should be the one communicating such needs or wishes.
Starting such conversations can be hard and I understand this. Our cultures may differ just like our personalities likely differ. Picking up the phone and telling your manager that you would like to start working your way towards the next step in your career requires you to have a clear understanding of what that next step is, what you're expected to do and having the conversation with your manager that likely involves salary negotiation and, sometimes, even changing teams. I'll tell you what, it's fine to not feel comfortable with these conversations. We all would love to just sit, heads-down, code and hope for everything else to happen magically. Unfortunately, that's not how the world operates. If you want something, you should go and get it. I mentioned picking up the phone but, to be honest, emails work fine too. They are a good way to start a conversation and they get rid of the awkward surprise that there is sometimes. The point is, you should start the conversation somehow and keep it going.
Anyway, managers are just one example of the different variables that are involved in our growth and the above is just one example of how we are responsible for our growth. So, without getting too caught up in the different scenarios where the above example may be true or false, I hope it's clear that the sooner you start taking responsibility for your own growth, the sooner you'll be able to make changes and take actions that will make it happen.
Flavio Percoco is a passionate developer, with interests in languages, cloud computing and distributed architectures. He's currently working for Red Hat where he spends most of his time hacking on OpenStack. Flavio promotes open source, APIs, humility and loves the philosophy behind software and life. Flavio writes on his blog at flaper87.com and tweets on @flaper87.