I’ve been thinking about career selection and management a lot recently. When I’m asked how I landed where I am, I’m quick to reply that I wouldn’t wish my career path on anyone but I sure do love where I am now. In all honesty, there has been a lot of hard work, difficult choices and tough breaks along the way. But that’s true for anyone who wants something more.
So what does career management have to do with leadership? It’s a lot harder to lead if you’re not in the right job fit. One of the best ways to excel as a leader is to choose the right context.
Here’s some of the best conventional wisdom I use with myself and others when it comes to charting out a career path – or just making a change.
At the end of the day, your career is your responsibility – in every aspect. If things aren’t going well, you aren’t loving it, you haven’t been promoted or if you can’t land the job you want – there is only one person you can ultimately lean on – yourself. That’s why Stephen Covey’s first habit is “be proactive.” It’s tempting to pass the blame to parents’ expectations, lack of support from an alma mater, a unreasonable boss or lousy employer. Accept responsibility. Your career is your career.
Follow Your Passion
Passion doesn’t come from the head, it comes from the heart (tweet). If you don’t care about what you do – or the why behind the what – you do yourself (and everyone else) a huge disservice. We’ve all encountered doctors, teachers, pastors, business professionals or service workers who clearly lacked passion – and it showed in their work. At the end of the day, fulfilling work is still work – so do the work upfront to identify and pursue what you are uniquely passionate about.
Consider Your Options
I spoke with an Air Force general a few years back who told me he routinely encouraged younger service members to consider leaving the military. “You encourage them to leave??” I asked. “That’s not what I said,” he replied. “I encourage them to consider leaving. When staying becomes the mindless choice, it’s never the best outcome – both for the person or the service.”
Zig Ziglar used to say, “People don’t know what they want because they don’t know what’s available for them.” The Heath brothers encourage finding many possible options to avoid choosing between only A and B. There are more opportunities available today than there ever were before in human history. If you’re having trouble identifying possible options – that’s your next homework assignment.
In Rules of the Red Rubber Ball, author Kevin Carroll recounted an experience right after joining the Air Force where he realized he did not want to be an MP. In a moment of desperation, he interrupted a very formal lecture to volunteer for another assignment. It ruffled feathers, but he was granted his request. Often the times we need to speak up most are the times it would be easiest not to (tweet). So speak up – your career depends on it.
Make a Goal (and a Plan)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Career aspirations needs to be written as goals with a plan to accompany them. Don’t skip this step because it feels like a drag. Come up with some short but specific SMART goals, and make sure to include target dates. Incorporate an Individual Development Plan so you’ll be prepared.
Embrace the Grind
If you still follow all these steps, you’ll still fail at this last point if you neglect to do the work. Career success doesn’t come easily or automatically. Be willing to sacrifice for it. Get up early. Cut out less important activities. Temporarily put some aspects of your life on hold while you push forward. Take Dave Ramsey’s advice and “Live like no one else so that someday – you can live like no one else.” Without sacrifice, there is no reward.
I’ve always felt that if I am going to spend the best years of my life working, I need to invest it as wisely as possible. After all, every day is precious. As I’ve progressed, I’ve also realized what career success looks like for me is often very different than for others. But I can also tell you every bit of hard work has been worth it.