Note: This is the first installment of a two-part series offering practical tips on how to chart your career course with confidence. Follow us for updates:
In a recent poll, we asked participants in a workshop entitled “Career Confidence” to identify their biggest obstacles to career growth. The number one response? Lack of opportunity.
Since my role in Talent Management gives me a chance to chat with employees about their career paths, I often hear about this obstacle. Certainly, higher level positions are scarcer than entry level positions, and it sure doesn’t hurt to be in the right place at the right time. But could some of the perceived lack of opportunity be caused by Cinderella thinking? You be the judge. Here are three examples of Cinderella thinking I’ve encountered:
Waiting to be developed.
You know in your heart of hearts that you’ve got the goods. You’re smart, you’re passionate, and doggone it, you have great ideas. Where is that fairy godmother to turn all this budding potential into stunning realization?
Waiting to be noticed.
You’re quietly schlepping away, working long hours, doing everything you’re asked with such a positive attitude you occasionally break into song. After all, hard work is its own reward and good things come to those who wait. Someday, someone will reward all that hard work with a promotion, right?
Waiting for a lucky break.
You’ve been noticed! In fact, you turned heads all over the ballroom. But the magic of the evening is gone, and with your heart set on only one position, you wait for the chance to slip your toes into that missing glass slipper.
Of course, we don’t really believe in fairy tales, but sometimes we act as though the secret to our career growth lies somewhere outside of us. To chart a confident career path, start by replacing Cinderella thinking with these three truths:
That’s right. You are your own fairy godmother. Seize the wand and start developing your own potential! If you’re not a planner by nature, here’s how to get started:
- Take stock. At least once a year, evaluate your career satisfaction, direction and progress. You don’t have to craft a 5-year plan, but at least jot down some notes about your general direction and target timeline. Over time, your interests and desires may change, so adjust course as necessary.
- Get feedback. If you aren’t already getting regular feedback from your manager, have a conversation at least once a year to find out how you’re doing in critical areas. Use this opportunity to also discuss your career goals and progress.
- Set development goals. Your manager likely holds you accountable to achieve company performance goals, but your own development goals may not get the same level of attention. It’s up to you. Choose one or two areas you know you want to improve, set specific goals around them, and then treat them with the same level of importance as your company performance goals.
- Pursue new challenges. Stretch yourself, both personally and professionally. It may not seem like running a 10-K has anything to do with your career, but successful people look for ways to disrupt their own comfort. Achievement in any area breeds confidence, so push your own boundaries.
Sometimes we can’t see past our own mop bucket. Every job has its ups and downs, but a prolonged down period may signify a need for change. If you’re feeling stuck, waiting it out may not be the answer. Instead, think about what you can change.
- Change the problem. Depending on the issue, sometimes it just takes the nerve to address it and suggest a solution. Maybe it’s a shift in responsibilities, a modified schedule, or additional resources. You won’t know until you try.
- Change you. If you can’t change the situation, sometimes a little coaching can help you deal. Maybe you’ll find your mojo again by letting go of unrealistic expectations, distancing yourself from a negative person, or improving your skills.
- Change jobs. When all else fails, explore other opportunities until you find one that lets you bring your best self to work every day. Life is too short.
We like to call it luck, but Louis Pasteur would tell you to put yourself in a position to be lucky. To do that:
- Keep your options open. Instead of fixing your sights on only one target (e.g. your boss’s job), think more broadly. Your best move may be in a completely different direction using transferable skills. The more options you keep in sight, the more likely one will pan out.
- Take calculated risks. When you open your mind to other possibilities, you never know what wild and crazy opportunity may knock. Open the door and have a chat. I know this sounds strange coming from the HR Lady, but go ahead and take that call from a recruiter. Here’s why: whether you make a move or not, you will have evaluated two options and made a choice. That feels good. Even if you decide to stay put, you’ll have a clearer sense of what you want.
- Cultivate your personal brand. No one likes a braggart, but you can promote yourself without being obnoxious. You just have to think like a marketer. What are your differentiating qualities? What value do you offer? What do you want to be known for? Take an active role in your own career by managing your brand well, being mindful of how you represent yourself in both your personal interactions and in social media.
Charting a confident career path requires no magic, just a little ownership and perseverance. Instead of waiting to find yourself in the right place at the right time, seize the wand and start creating your own “happily ever after” career path.
About the Author
Riddle me this, Batman: what do the Securities and Exchange Commission, at-risk children, poetry, global talent management, and journalism all have in common? Answer: they all represent a chapter of my rather patchwork career! Not surprisingly, I sometimes chuckle at popular notions about career planning! Certainly, my path was light on planning, but it all makes sense in a weird way. I love engaging with people around a meaningful goal, whether helping disadvantaged children handle life or helping business find new ways to connect with customers. I love the journey more than the destination, and find joy in capturing the view with language all along the way. I love a challenge and draw energy from the vision of a better future.