Success averages out
I often used to consult my operating systems professor in grad school for career related advice. He made me realize that for several of the career decisions, just as with many other decisions in life, there is no wrong answer — If there was, it would be easy to spot it. Any decision we make would result in unfolding of our life in a way which is hard to predict upfront. He told me that just as much as our career depends on our hard work and choices, it equally, if not more, depends on factors beyond our control. Over the course of an average career that lasts between 30 to 40 years, good and bad work opportunities should average out and hence one should be able to achieve their true worth in the long run.
It has only been 10 years since those discussions, but I can already see that growth typically happens in bursts. Favorable circumstances like finding a good manager or mentor, a high visibility project or good skill set match come along in between unfavorable times. We grow faster when circumstances are favorable and we simply need to weather out and learn from the bad times.
It is understandable that the anxiety to get promoted on the job would be particularly high in early stages of one’s career. One year delay in a promotion for a two year old career obviously looks like a big deal as compared to a year’s delay in a ten year old career. To get some perspective, it could help if we look at the career trajectories of people who have been working for twenty or thirty years. Growth follows a pyramid pattern and the number of people shrinks at each level. Most people hit the ceiling at a level much lower than what their younger self would have dreamt of. Hence, rather than focusing on how to get our 1st or 2nd promotion quickly, we should probably try to figure out what we need to do to ensure that we do not get capped at a low ceiling. While I do think that given a choice, it is always better to get promoted than to not, we also need to do our best to ensure that our performance and happiness is not tied to it.