I just read what I thought was a brilliant article by career expert Liz Ryan in Forbes entitled Five Signs You’re Successful – Whether You Know It or Not.
In this post, Liz overrode all our traditional views of what career success is and replaced it with a new model.
To quickly summarize what Liz wrote, her definition of career success included being able to manage your own career, the capability to help your employers and clients be successful, the ability to speak up when appropriate, to be able to dream as big as you want and actually move towards that dream and have people around you that you love and they love you.
These are definitely not the traditional hallmarks of career success of chasing and securing the big title and paycheck.
As I read this post I couldn’t help but wonder why this article seemed to resonate with me so much. By all accounts, I have been blessed with some of the traditional measures along with Liz’s suggestions of success.
I think it may have hit me because when I first started working, I didn’t start my career with Liz’s perspective. I set out with many of the traditional views of career success. Possibly now as my own kids are starting their careers, my hopes for them are possibly better reflected in Liz’s description.
Whatever the reason, I thought it might be fun to share some lessons that I have learned over the course of my career. So to coin a phrase “if I knew then what I know now“, here is some career advice to that I would share.
#1 – Always Keep Learning
Why do I put this as my number one lesson?
When I became a first time manager, unfortunately one of the first things I ever had to do was let a number of people go as part of a downsizing exercise. I can still picture an older gentleman who had been doing the same job for years look across the table at me and ask – “what will I do now?”. As hard as I tried, I was unable to place him anywhere else. He unfortunately didn’t have any skills that the company needed. This conversation was so profound for me, it actually sent me on a whole different career path into career and learning management – but I digress.
So my advice is – stay curious and always keep learning.
It doesn’t have to be formal or traditional learning but by reading, staying current, watching the trends and picking up new and valuable skills and competencies along the way is key. This will help you to stay in control of the direction of your career and allow you to make the choices of what happens next.
It’s always much more enjoyable to decide what doors you want to open and close rather then them being chosen for you.
#2 – Be Nice
On occasion I have been accused of being “too nice” at work. But I always take this as a compliment. When you are nice, people like to work with you. They help you, respond to you and also speak highly of you. I see it as a sort of business karma. What you give out, you will get back.
This is not to be confused with being a push over however. You still need to stand up for what you believe in or what needs to be said or done but who says this can’t be done in a nice, respectful way? So don’t believe all the reality shows out there that show people intimidating and yelling at each other. They are just bullies – and we all know how toxic a bully can be in the workplace.
#3 – If You Hear Yourself Say “That’s Not How We Do It” – It’s Time To Move On
It’s so easy to just get into the groove of a job. The daily grind as we call it. But what can happen is that as you accept this daily activity you can lose your ability to look for and accept new ways of doing things. That’s when things can become stagnant and you can put yourself in a situation where you may be viewed as a problem versus someone who helps find solutions.
Always keep looking for ways to improve – both in yourself and what you’re doing. If you can no longer do this – it’s time to find something else to do.
#4 – Mind Your Priorities
Work is just a part of our lives and we need to remember this. Unfortunately, I have been caught many times with my priorities a little out of whack.
Remember your family, remember to take care of yourself physically and mentally. Develop some hobbies and nurture your friendships. And be sure to take your vacation – you need the break to relax and recharge. These are all the things that will be there and you will remember long after your career is gone.
#5 – Enjoy What You Do
It’s expected that people will now be working at least forty years or more. That’s a long time to spend doing something that you don’t enjoy. Find something that you believe in and will have fun working on. Make sure that you check out the people you will be spending time with day in and day out – you spend a lot of time together.
Also, remember that not every job is filled with 100% of things you like to do.
Some of the best advice I received was from a dear friend who was a school superintendent. He shared that some of the teachers that worked for him complained that they didn’t like having to deal with the parents. He told them that even though they may not like dealing with the parents it was part of their job responsibilities. He also told them that if they found this became more that 25% of their work then they should possibly reconsider their vocation. He believed that as long as the things that we don’t like to do stays under the 25% of our responsibilities, we can manage and cope with it. If it gets over that then maybe we should be looking to do something else. This advice always worked for me.
#6 – Work Doesn’t Define Who You Are
Finally, recognize that work is not your identity and doesn’t define who you are. Sure, you may love what you do. Sure, it’s great to have pride in your work but always remember that you are much more than this. You may be a mother, a father, a sister, a brother. You may be someone’s best friend. You may be a mentor or volunteer or coach. You may be a musician or a caregiver. Your work is just one dimension of a multi dimensional life.
We always talk about work/life balance. I believe that it’s really just about life balance. You have many different facets of your life with work being just one of them. Be sure to keep it prioritized and balanced within the structure of your whole life.
That is just some of the career advice that I would share. One final piece (and apologies for the cliche) – remember to also make sure you enjoy the journey. It may not seem like it now, but it does go by so very fast.