I’m a junior marketer working at a small company, and I’ve recently become a team of one after my manager moved on to another opportunity. My main concern is that I won’t grow without having a more experienced marketer/team to collaborate with and learn from. However, another challenge that has surfaced (that I didn’t expect) is explaining something from a marketing perspective without being brushed off or questioned entirely. Overall it makes me feel lost in my role at the company. Is it still possible to grow my marketing knowledge in this environment? How would you make the most of the situation?
Your question reminded me of a diagram a friend drew for me on a scrap of paper many years ago. I think back to this diagram when I’m in a new situation that makes me uncomfortable. Am I just scared of failing and looking stupid? Or is it really a situation that’s beyond what I can handle? The diagram looked something like this:
In the middle is your Comfort Zone. These are the things you feel 100% confident doing. When you’re first starting out, this is a relatively small zone.
The next circle out is the Growth Zone. These are things that are adjacent to your Comfort Zone. They will challenge you to learn new skills or apply current skills to new contexts. By definition, there is a real risk of failure in the Growth Zone (if you’re sure you won’t fail, you’re still in your Comfort Zone). But the consequences of failing are manageable. Being in the Growth Zone can be stressful, but it’s generally “good stress”. There’s a sense of excitement and exhilaration in testing your limits. A life without any stress ever is a pretty boring life, after all.
Outside the Growth Zone is what I think of as the Panic Zone. These are things way outside your Comfort Zone. I associate the Panic Zone with overwhelm and paralysis. The situation triggers your body’s fight or flight response, “bad stress”. You’re not going to be doing your best learning in the Panic Zone and staying there too long will lead to chronic stress and burnout.
Which zone are you in right now? Which zone do you want to be in? Only you can answer those questions. Everyone’s tolerance for stress and risk is different and will change depending on your life circumstances. However, testing the boundaries of your Growth Zone is easier when you have a strong support system around you, something that seems to be lacking at your current company.
Do you have 1:1s with a direct manager at all right now? If not, can you ask for them so you have a direct channel to someone who can help you troubleshoot these issues?
Are they planning on hiring a new marketing lead? If so, advocate for being a part of the hiring decision. As their one direct report, you should have a say in who your boss will be.
If they aren’t hiring a new marketing lead, what’s their long-term vision for marketing at the company?
You’re already learning valuable lessons in advocating for solutions and navigating tough work situations, soft skills that will serve you well no matter where your career takes you. But learning concrete marketing skills will be easier at a company that already understands the importance of good marketing so you can focus on strategy and execution, not begging for resources and support.
Continue to learn as much as you can in your current role, but start looking out for new opportunities. Connect with people at companies you’re curious about or people with job titles and roles you find interesting. (I just wrote a guide on how to make networking online less awkward that you may find helpful.)
Use those conversations to get clear on what you want in your career right now and to find the right fit. You may find some great mentors along the way who can give you better career and marketing advice than I can!
As for making the most out of your current situation, in addition to asking for regular 1:1s with a direct manager, here are some things that help me when I’m feeling out of my depth in my Growth Zone:
- Remember that there are no adults. Everyone’s just winging it pretty much all the time. Even (especially) the marketing gurus on Twitter who seem to have all their shit together. It’s easy to build a narrative after the fact about why something did or didn’t work, but in the moment 95% of the time they were making it up as they went.
- Beware of analysis paralysis. The number of things you could (and probably should) be doing as a marketer will always vastly outnumber the things you can actually do. There will always be another article or book to read, podcast to listen to, case study with advice that you think will change everything. Speaking from experience, it’s easy to get stuck in learning mode and never actually do anything. At some point, you have to pick the one or two things you think will have the most impact and put your energy into getting them out into the world.
- Break things down to the next concrete step. It’s also easy to get overwhelmed and paralyzed by the enormity of a new challenge. Don’t think about the end result or all the steps it will take to get there. Just focus on the one next thing that has to happen, then do it. Rinse and repeat. I often revisit this quote from Ann Lammott’s Bird By Bird, a book about life disguised as a book about writing:
“E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
One final thing: Something I wish I had learned earlier in life is that it’s ok to quit.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to cultivate resiliency and push through hard situations. That’s all well and good, but it places an awful lot of pressure on the individual. When I was stressed out and unhappy, I would feel like it was my fault I couldn’t handle the pressure when others could. I felt like I just needed to be tougher and more resilient. That the problem was me, not the situation.
Sometimes, that is the case and I do need to face my fear of failure head on. But sometimes a shitty situation is just a shitty situation and no amount of resiliency is going to make it ok. There’s no shame in walking away.
Best of luck,