You might remember learning about expansion and contraction in your 7th-grade science class.
Heat causes particles to move faster. That movement requires more space. This is why your door is harder to open to the middle of the summer, and why hot air can turn a pile of nylon into a hot air balloon. Amazingly, liquids, solids and gases are all subject to the same phenomenon—and so is your career.
This has been key to my own 10-year journey in content marketing. I got my start working in-house, then went to a big agency. I had the chance to learn from and observe experienced pros and big customers. I was able to try new types of writing, pitch clients on ideas and report, often rigorously, on my work. From there, I went in-house to a tiny startup. I worked mostly independently, applying lessons learned from my last job and narrowing my focus to a handful of small, clear goals.
In time, I got the itch to expand my surface area. Agencies are great places to accelerate your career growth because you tend to be surrounded by peers with similar (and hopefully better) skills. I went to Animalz, where I again had the chance to get exposure to so much—lots of customers, a growing team, the opportunity to try sales, pricing/packaging experiments and so much more. It's the type of experience that no in-house job could ever have provided. Before too long, I was itching to put my blinders on and went back in-house to QuickBooks.
You get the idea. Gain lots of experience and exposure at an agency, then specialize in-house. Rinse and repeat. I've done this six times in my career and believe that expansion and contraction provided the challenge and motivation I needed to keep me curious and motivated.
This idea can many different forms. Janessa Lantz's version of this has been alternating between small and large marketing teams. Early in her career, as she described on our recent podcast, she was a one-woman marketing, but eventually realized she needed to be around a team of experienced marketers to grow. She eventually landed at Hubspot, a company with a massive, experienced marketing team. After a few years, she took her new skills to a startup where she is once again a one-woman marketing team.
At a large company, you learn to talk like an executive, observe what a CMO does, work with a team of people on a wide variety of projects. At a startup, you could be learning enough CSS to fix your own website, pitching in to help out a frustrated customer or launching a new campaign two days after you dreamed up. You become well-rounded by having both sets of experiences.
This idea also closely mirrors what Sean Blanda told us (podcast episode #1) about "learning or earning." As Sean said, "You have to be consciously doing at least one of those things. Ideally both, but at least one. When I thought it was time to move on from a job, it was because I wasn't learning anymore or I didn't see a path forward where I could earn more money."
Some people call this "job hopping." I call it taking control of your career.
For you, this could mean bouncing back and forth between in-house and agency jobs, startups and enterprise, strategy and writing roles—or mix them all together. The idea is simply that every now and then you apply some heat to your career as way to learn and grow faster.