For the last ten years I have been a full-time professor at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, MO. Like most professors in most colleges, my job has been a mix of teaching classes and other duties such as chairing an academic division and coordinating bi-weekly Chapel services.
Last year I was asked to take two major projects that would mean more responsibility, increased stress, and leading in areas where I wasn’t very experienced. I knew these would be challenging projects, but in both cases I said “yes.” And in both cases I’ve come away a better person because of it.
The first project was leading a complete redesign of our college website. This may not seem like a big deal since colleges and businesses redesign websites all the time. But since our school is small and has very limited resources, we decided to build the new website ourselves, from scratch.
The second project was helping launch and market our new online program. Most colleges and universities have online programs these days, but it’s a much more complex undertaking than I understood at first. I would have lots of help from other college staff, but I would ultimately be the Director of the new online program.
Why would I accept these challenges that would take lots of time and energy, and how have they benefited me? The reason is simple: New challenges in your work represent an opportunity for growth.
There are four ways I have grown through my own challenges recently, and these are reasons you should embrace challenges as well. Whether you like your current job or would like to move on, or even if you work for yourself, these are great reasons to consider accepting new challenges that are placed before you.
1. You can grow your skills.
Whenever you encounter a new type of challenge, it’s almost always a chance to develop a new set of skills.
In my case, I knew that by working on our website I would strengthen my skills in web development, marketing, social media, team leadership, and communication.
By working with the online program, I knew I would strengthen my skills in marketing and advertising, understanding of business and financial aid systems (and government regulations!), and academic processes and administration. But the biggest benefit was the opportunity to be trained and certified as an online instructor.
This doesn’t mean you have to accept every opportunity that comes your way. But it does mean that when you have a new challenge in your work, you often have the opportunity to grow your skills.
Your work is not just a simple exchange of time for money. You receive far more from your work than a paycheck. You also receive value through the skills you develop.
2. You can grow your value.
There is no guarantee in any job. Gone are the days when you could count on working for one organization for a few decades before retirement. Everyone is replaceable. But it would foolish to ignore an opportunity to become more valuable.
I knew that by accepting some new challenges, I would become more valuable to my employer. But it’s not just about my own job security. It’s also about making the organization more valuable. Every time you improve yourself, it improves those around you. A rising tide raises all the ships in the harbor.
What could be more valuable to an organization than an employee who cares as much about others’ success and his or her own?
It works the other way also. When others around you improve themselves, it ultimately benefits you as well. This is why you should view your co-workers as collaborators instead of competitors. It’s also why we should celebrate their success. You’re all working to help make the organization more successful.
3. You can grow your relationships.
Your work is ultimately all about people. People are the source of every great idea. People are the most important resource in any project. And people are the ultimate users of every product or service we offer.
Relationships are the glue that holds everything together, and the goal of everything we do.
In my new challenges at work, I’ve had a blast getting to know my coworkers on a deeper level. As a professor, your main work relationships are focused on students, professors and academic staff. But my work on the college website and online program have given me the chance to work with staff in our admissions, business, technology, administrative, and financial aid departments.
By far, the biggest lesson I’ve taken away from working with other staff is a much deeper appreciation for what they do. I have a new understanding of their expertise and how their work keeps the college running in ways I never realized. In addition, the two recent projects wouldn’t have been possible without their help.
I’ve also been able to develop new relationships. Just in the past few weeks, I’ve talked with a number of experts from sister schools and organizations who have helped me immensely in several areas. My new opportunities have given me the chance to make connections I wouldn’t have made otherwise.
When you consider taking on new challenges in your work, don’t look at them only in terms of the tasks or time it will require. Unless you are working completely by yourself, you can develop relationships that will pay off in ways you can’t yet imagine.
4. You can grow your job satisfaction.
There are two kinds of people in any workplace: those who are enduring it, and those who are enjoying it. If you are just enduring your job, a new challenge might be just what you need to start enjoying it more.
I wasn’t unhappy in my teaching role, but I was feeling the need for a new challenge. When I was offered the chance to take on some new things, I was able to renegotiate about half of my existing responsibilities. This allowed me to focus on my core strength area (teaching courses related to music and the arts), get involved in some new projects, and make the best possible contribution to the college.
However, it was also a chance to hand off some of my responsibilities to others, therefore offering them new challenges and the opportunity to grow. As a result, one of our other professors is now coordinating Chapel services with a group of students. They have taken things to a whole new level and made some much-needed improvements to the planning process.
This whole process isn’t just about your own satisfaction and growth. It’s also about helping others grow. When you step out of a role to embrace something new, it opens up an opportunity for others to grow their leadership and hopefully improve on your past work!
This is why we should always hold loosely to titles, roles and positions. No job is permanent; you are only a steward of that role for a limited time. If we have done a good job in that role, it should bring us joy when we see someone else step into that role and build on what we have done. We can celebrate the success of others who come behind us without feeling threatened.
What does all this have to do with creativity, the main topic of this blog? New challenges in your work can help you be more creative. Being a creative person is not just about the ability to draw, paint, write, or play music. An essential component of creativity is growth. And without growth, you will become stagnant and eventually irrelevant.
Your job doesn’t have to be an obstacle to the life you want. Problems and challenges at work can seem like insurmountable boulders. But with a little change in perspective, you can turn those challenging boulders into stepping-stones for growth and success.