Spring is a time of new growth and, I believe, a time of infinite possibility and personal development. However, just as you can’t expect a rose to grow and bloom in the desert, you can’t expect your career to blossom without nurturing.
Focus on the process, not the outcome.
Before I begin talking about the “5 Keys,” keep in mind that personal growth is a process. You reap rewards most when you’re not attached to a specific outcome. Here’s why. There are days when everything seems to fall into place and other days when you might be tempted to say, “Why bother?” Rest assured (and this might be a challenging concept at first) frustration and failure are simply growth opportunity on steroids.
I once knew a gardener who had amazing luck growing spinach. In fact, she had enough spinach to give to family, friends and neighbors. Turns out (sorry Popeye), she was allergic to spinach and even its smell made her ill. So, she decided to try her green thumb at eggplant. Within a week, and despite her best efforts, the eggplants she planted withered and passed-on to eggplant paradise.
“I’m better than that,” said our intrepid gardener, and after changing soil, pH, plant food, lighting conditions and watering frequency she produced the best eggplant in town. Point is, she had to get out of her comfort zone and fail before she learned how to succeed. Focus on the process; the journey, and allow yourself to mistake it ‘til you make it.
Key 1: Commit to Growth. To go to the next level, you have to grow to the next level. Own that in order to reach the next level in your career, there will be a certain amount of discomfort and sacrifice. The sacrifice might be upskilling through more education or accreditation, mastery of software, or reaching out to unfamiliar resources. Perhaps these changes scare you, and it is understandable. However, breaking down these obstacles into smaller bits and pieces will surely result in mastery if you stay committed to the process.
When I first started my speaking career two decades ago, I went on what I called the “Free Chicken Dinner Circuit.” I spoke for no fee at local associations within 2 hours of my home for roughly 40-50 people in the evenings when they met after work. Did I enjoy being away from my family and burning my own gas money? Absolutely not, but I was committed to this career, and the experiences and opportunities gained were well-worth the sacrifice. To stay relevant in our ever-changing business climate, I commit to daily research and writing, and attend conferences and classes to get better in my craft. Last summer when I spoke to over 5,000 financial professionals in Australia, I reflected on how it all started with my unwavering commitment to take the first step and keep going. What step will get you growing?
Key 2: Take ONE focused step at a time. Might sound silly, but a first-year medical student usually has no idea what kind of residency in what kind of specialty they will pursue. Coursework such as anatomy, physiology and pharmacology must be the first orders of business. Skills are essential, knowledge is essential, and each step of a journey must be overcome before the next challenge presents itself. Focus is essential because mastery of each step is mandatory. I can’t imagine being an air traffic controller, but I know how extremely competent they become with time and practice. It is mandatory they learn focus to the point of excluding the superfluous. No matter your career, to grow to the next level, focus is mandatory.
Key 3: This is not your mom or dad’s career path. There was a time when our grandparents or parents settled into a job, stayed for 40-years, and eventually received a gold watch or a retirement bonus. Times have changed, organizations have changed, and personal goals have changed. Many of us have gone “non-linear.” Physicians become architects, stockbrokers become restauranteurs, classical musicians become nurse anesthetists, and on and on. There is something wonderful about switching gears to better align with your lifestyle or passion. However, not following a straight path is not the same as playing hopscotch. If you are a successful carpenter who has a deep desire to teach mathematics at a university, create a plan. If you’re concerned about your role changing due to artificial intelligence, create a plan. What skills or credentials do you need? What steps will you need to take? Most importantly, why do you want to get there?
Key 4: Surround yourself with non-judgment. No garden or career grows in the soil of judgment. Chances are, you are not too old to change careers (about 1 in 6 employees will be more than 60 by 2030). And please remember life is far too short for you to work in a company where you are tolerated and not celebrated. The entire issue of diversity, equity and inclusion must be how all of us are appreciated in our organizations. It goes without saying, if we practice non-judgment toward ourselves, we should strive to elevate everyone around us. Water your garden with compassion and shower others with your acceptance.
Key 5: ASK for what you need to succeed. A career should be more than “just good enough.” You deserve more than “just” a salary and benefits. Whether remote, in-person or hybrid, research has shown individuals desire growth potential in their career. Disengagement happens when you feel bored or stagnate, so what do you need to ask for to succeed? A stretch assignment? An opportunity to shadow another position? A temporary assignment in another part of the country? Or, simply a one-on-one with your leader to explore career path options? Too many leaders I interview share they didn’t even know an employee was unhappy in their position until after they quit. No one is a mind reader, so risk being real and ask for what you need to succeed.
Gardens that thrive are nurtured by someone who cares enough to commit the time, energy and effort. The same holds true for your career, and I hope you continue to bloom.