Opportunity isn't always linear.
Sure, sometimes you move up or advance your career based on working hard, waiting patiently, and being the next person in line. In many cases, however, the best chances and opportunities come to people who put themselves in a position to succeed.
That means doing one simple thing: saying "yes" as often as you can. Be generous when it comes to helping out, sharing your knowledge, and helping others succeed.
What does saying "yes" mean?
It's important to not get walked on but also to be agreeable and excited. That means saying yes to working on new projects, sitting in on a meeting where your knowledge might add something even when it's not exactly your job, and generally being open to helping.
Doing this isn't about any short-term gain. You may not get paid extra for your time, and in many cases, your help won't result in any direct benefit to you. That's not the point. It's not a quid pro quo situation; it's about building a reputation as being someone who works to help others succeed.
You want your company to think of you as a go-to person -- someone who has helped so many people that your name can't be ignored. There's no exact way to do that, though; it's mostly about being sincerely and enthusiastically helpful.
Build a reputation as being someone who's always down for an adventure. That might mean hashing out a new project or volunteering for something nobody else wants to do. You're not trying to be a doormat, but you will be lending a hand where needed and being a team player as often as possible.
Saying yes opens doors. It exposes you to areas outside your job description. You might get to meet new people, work on new ideas, or build up personal equity with people across the company.
It's an attitude
You never know what experience will lead to something new. Once, I did consulting on a digital book project for a friend of a friend, which led to me spending a year as the executive director of a group of rock band summer camps.
That path clearly was not linear, and that has happened to me a lot in my career. I tend to approach things with the attitude of "How would I feel if I asked someone to do this?" If my answer is "I'd really like their help or involvement," I almost always say yes.
Think of every action you undertake as building goodwill and filling a reserve. You may never need all that goodwill to pay off, but it's there -- an asset that you earned.
The payout may not be direct, but just having people think well of you is a reward of sorts. Once they do, however -- and you can't fake this; it only works if you're truly sincere -- chances are opportunities will develop. By being open, helpful, and agreeable, you make yourself someone people want to work with. That's a huge payoff even if it's just in exposure to different opportunities and a chance to have closer work relationships.
If you say no enough, people stop asking. Say yes and you never know where it will take you.