It’s that time of year again. The pressure’s on to buy buy and buy more. On the heels of Black Friday (whoever came up with that name was cheekily brilliant), we now have Cyber Week! Everywhere we look there’s some corporate giant waiting to pounce on our wallets.
This mass media marketing is, of course, designed to make us think we must have that new electronic, or fancy pair of shoes. But do we really need it?
The same thing happens in our careers. We’re told we must develop our leadership competencies so we can climb that ladder that beckons us to the top. Managers tell us we must directly supervise employees to become a Director. And the message is, everyone must aim to be a leader.
If you’re an entrepreneur you’re hearing so many “must” do’s to earn multiple figures or market to our target niche. Business mentors are ripe with recipes for that one path to success.
Like the pre-Christmas mass marketing that dupes us into thinking we must have the toys, gadgets and latest of the latest, so do the manager, mentors, leadership books and business publications demand we need to be and act a certain way.
But are they right? Or are they really telling us how to reach their goals and their vision of success?
I’ve recently had the privilege of coaching a large number of rising stars in a sizeable organization. Their managers tapped them on the shoulder to attend an intensive leadership program. While some of them truly do have the goal of making it up the ladder, others are confused and feeling pressured.
What I find most interesting is when we peel the layers off their onion we find that their own career goals are in contrast to what they believe they’re “supposed” to do as defined by their manager, organization or business mentor.
This is when the confusion sets in. Questions invariably come up:
- Will the company still value me if I don’t want to move up?
- Will I be passed over for interesting projects?
- How will my colleagues view me?
- What value do I bring to the company?
If you own your business, your questions are likely:
- Why do I have to follow what everyone else is doing?
- Will I be a failure if I don’t make 6+ figures?
- Why does my sales funnel have to look like B-School’s?
These are natural responses and reactions. But what if I asked you, “What’s your definition of your purpose and the legacy you want to share with your organization or business?”
That changes everything!
I know this may seem obvious, but it bares saying: it’s unlikely you’ll ever be happy following what others do or what they expect you to do.
So now what?
While having a coach guide you forward is an asset in gaining clarity and perspective, you can start by tossing aside the previous questions and focus on uncovering your true goals and a path to achieving them. Start by asking yourself:
- Who is responsible for my career?
- How important is my work/life balance?
- Am I passionate about the work I do?
- Do I like being an expert in my field?
- Do I crave greater responsibility for and interest in leading others or the bigger picture?
- Is financial achievement my primary motivation?
- Am I open to moving laterally versus up, in the organization?
- Do I actually care what others think of my career direction and me?
The next step is getting clear on your beliefs. Try writing down 5 beliefs you hold regarding work and career. Compare these with your answers to the questions above. Do they align or are there disconnects? These disconnects are critical holes that need your attention; this is the vacancy between what you believe and what you desire. The idea here is to go into this space and honestly ask yourself which is your truth – your so-called belief or your so-called answers to the questions.
Please know there is no right or wrong answer. You’re entitled to your own career goals and a path to reach them. You’re also entitled to question your beliefs.
There are no musts or rigid rules in your career – only your ability to discover what is right for you. Like the catalogue full of enticing trinkets guaranteed to bring you joy and happiness, so too are your managers’ or mentors’ expectations for you – illusions painted by someone else.
The bottom line is – you get to decide. You actually need to decide. Getting clear and forging your true path is no doubt the most important career development step you can take.
A career success consultant whose blogs I follow, Kathy Caprino, wrote “How Authenticity Can Prevent Professionals From Growing Into Leaders”. I hit upon a paragraph quoted by Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader that knocked me over:
Don’t stick to your story. Most of us have stories about critical events in our lives that shaped who we are today and taught us important lessons. Consciously or not, we allow our stories… to guide us in new situations. But our stories can become outdated as we grow our skills and styles, so occasionally it’s necessary to alter them dramatically or even throw them out and start from scratch.
Not only was I surprised to read something original and fresh, I could feel the light bulb switch on above my head.
We not only allow old stories to guide us in the present, we run the risk of letting those stories define who we will be in the future.
And that my friends, can have a huge impact on your career success!
There’s two reasons I’m excited about this idea. First, I went through a tough period and after two years, a coach colleague of mine asked why I was letting my story define me? Why indeed! It was time to shed the crazy narrative I was clinging to. And quite frankly, it wasn’t doing anything except hold me back. At that moment I realized I’m the one that gets to create my own narrative.
I also learned the stories that got us here will not, I repeat, not get us to where we want to go. Think of the snake that sheds its skin in order to live and thrive. So too must we let go of the stories we tell ourselves, the beliefs that no longer serve us and the tried and not always true behaviours and approaches we’ve clung to.
There’s no place more important to adopt this perspective than in our careers. I work with many new senior leaders. The absolute one thing they share is the idea that what got them to where they are right now will definitely not get them to where they want to go. In fact, it’s unlikely they’ll be successful in their leadership if they don’t shed their skin. More often than not, this is what brings them to seek a coach.
Even the most accomplished leaders get caught up with their old stories and history, allowing these to blind them to what’s really going on in the present moment.
I worked with a client who’d lost her job months earlier. The story she told herself was about being victimized by her Board of Director’s mismanagement. She saw no other options than to be an Executive Director. She so identified with her story, she believed her only way forward was to vindicate and prove herself worthy of leading a similar organization.
We deconstructed her story and separated her emotions from the events. Through lots of work, she eventually realized her version of the story was holding her back from being open to a world of new opportunities. So powerful was this awareness that she ceremoniously let go of the old narrative. She’s since moved on to a whole new career based.
We all have the tendency toward a one-dimensional view, especially with events that have strong emotions attached. Holding our view long after the story is over can be a way of justifying our actions, soothing our fraught emotions or simply a way of making sense of a confusing or difficult situation.
Here’s the difference between a perspective based on what’s current and one that’s manufactured through the past, our emotions and imagination. A healthy perspective has us open to possibilities and unlimited ways of seeing things. It offers a respectful way of engaging with other colleagues and making good decisions. Ultimately, with old stories left in the past, our burdens can be lifted and we can be present and wholehearted.
How can you leave behind your old stories? I suggest these four practices:
- Begin by realizing you may be showing up with tainted lenses from your past – good or bad. Is there one particular story that’s emotionally charged when you think about it? One that still doesn’t make sense or one that you still talk about all these years later?
- Revisit each story one last time. Hold it up like a globe and look at it from different vantage points. See it through the lens of others and you’ll likely discover aspects of your story that weren’t quite as you’d imagined or believed them to be.
- Notice how the story may be getting in your way. It happened, it’s over. Be compassionate with yourself. Take one key learning from the story and let the rest fall away. You may even find it useful to symbolically let the story go by setting free a balloon or throwing a stone in the ocean.
- Hold the value of the learning close, tapping into it when you find yourself slipping into the past. The learning is all that matters and all that should influence your present and future.
As for me, I’m learning to not give someone trust without it being earned. I rarely think about the old story. It’s been shed. Since then, it’s not that my world has opened up, rather it’s that I’ve opened up to my world!
What stories are holding you back from career success?
The biggest reactions I see in clients facing change are fear and eroded confidence. We could debate that the notion that lack of confidence fuels the fear, but really, what does it matter? The fact is that change brings out two emotions we’d all rather keep under wraps.
When a major shift is staring you in the face, you can either run for the hills, face it head on or take a step back and assess what it’ll take for you to understand it, know it, accept it and embrace it?
Tons has been written, researched and TedTalk’ed about change. So, bear with me as I give you a slightly different way to approach it.
We can learn a lot from corporate change management practices. These are designed to mitigate the discomfort and maximize success of large transformation initiatives. There are variations in change management models, but what they share is a structured and intentional approach. It starts with knowing the “why” of the change and turning that into a compelling story. It ends with measuring the success of and sustaining the new reality.
- Make the case for change
- Identify resources
- Build champion coalitions
- Scope the change
- Communicate the message
- Assess the cultural landscape
- Prepare for the unexpected
- Face resistance
- Sustain the change
Knowing this planned approach is used for wholesale corporate shifts, what if I say, “In order to manage what’s coming ahead, what if you take this structured and intentional approach to your impending change?” It’s likely you’d say “huh?”
And you’d be right to be quizzical. After all, we so often wait until things happen and then react. Think about the last time major change happened to you and the amount of energy you gave away by facing it without a game plan? And let me guess – the resulting experience brought up fear and a strip off your confidence?
So let’s tackle this by applying what the OD (Organizational Development) experts do for wholesale change in companies. Let’s say you switch positions within the same company. You know it’s coming. Your not convinced it’ll be successful even though senior management is behind your transfer.
Let’s follow the change management best practices above to set you up for change success:
- Making the case for change – get clear on why you’ve been chosen for a new position. What expertise or attitude makes you the choice? Does it make sense? Do you even want the position? If not, ask senior management for more information. At the end of the day, you have to own the why.
- Identifying resources – what do you need to make the shift and be a success? This can be anything from bringing your administrative support along with you, to a closer parking spot (no harm in asking)
- Building champion coalitions – Figure out who in senior management is gunning for this change. Think of them as your new mentor(s) and keep them close for support down the line.
- Scoping the change – Is this a long-term assignment? Does it come with specific deliverables etc.?
- Communicating the message – What is your self-talk telling you? Is it giving you red flags? Do you need to ask for more information? Pay attention and keep asking questions to get to the bottom of any hesitation.
- Assessing the cultural landscape – Does this opportunity align with your vision, values, ethics and beliefs? Will the position be a “good fit”?
- Listening – Avoid making assumptions by paying attention to how this change will play out for others (family, co-workers, executive etc.).
- Preparing for the unexpected – How will you protect yourself against what you don’t know yet?
- Facing resistance – Listen to your own intuition and let it guide you safely forward – even if it means turning the position down.
- Sustaining the change – How will you know when this has been a successful transition? What will that look like?
You’re on the path toward change. You’ve prepared, anticipated and asked the right questions. You’ve turned the unknowns into concrete information. Little is being left to chance. So how is your fear level now? Do you feel ready to step up? If not, go back to the best practices list and look for gaps or niggly bits that still don’t make sense.
For most of us, change isn’t a picnic. But it is part of life and sometimes we don’t have a lot of choice but to move with it. The point here is not to reach 100% buy-in; it’s to do the best preparation possible to set yourself up for success.
And if you need help, reach out to me at eveofchange.
Have you ever found yourself desperate to find and move to a new position or career? Or you’ve been let go (outplaced) and need to find your next corporate home? The pressure is on. You start applying for everything under the sun. You’re sure the “right fit” is just around the corner.
Whoa! What you might really need is a time out. And I don’t mean taking a holiday or battening the hatches.
I can’t tell you the number of clients who’ve found themselves in this spot. And, more importantly, they share one thing in common. In their frantic quest, what they don’t realize is they’re doing more harm than good to themselves.
Let me explain. Ever heard the expression, “I can smell a rat a mile away?” Well, there are two things prospective employers can smell right away in a candidate: low confidence and desperation. Yup, walk into an interview with either odor and you may as well walk right back out the door.
Heck, the best piece of advice I got when I lost my job was, “Don’t even think about applying for positions, let alone search the want ads for at least a few months. You aren’t the best version of yourself right now, so wait until you can bring your best to an interview.”
Here’s the truth: nobody wants to hire someone who has a current dip in their confidence, no matter what the reason. Nor do they want to work with someone desperate. Not that there’s anything bad about being earnest, but desperation tends to make others suspicious.
Moving from one job to another means cleaning up your last job – be it emotional, spiritual or a whole lot of paper to be shredded – and moving forward with clarity, positivity and an open heart. You just can’t take your baggage with you.
So what does it take to realize you are in one or both emotional states and what do you need to do to get past them and job-hunt ready? Remember those clients I mentioned? I’ll tell you exactly what they did.
First, they listened to me asking them to listen to themselves. They discovered their self-talk was less than compassionate and kind.
I asked how they thought they’d appear to prospective employers? For most, it doesn’t take long to get an “aha” – meaning they may not be putting forward the best version of themself.
Net we reacquaint them with their strengths, talents and gifts. We all need to be reminded of how we make the world a better place. Then we move into readjusting their expectations of time. Getting the next job isn’t going to happen right away.
This whole process is done within the construct of coaching (check out my Essential C process). The clients do the work; they have everything they need to figure it all out. I just help steer them to a place where they can clean up and put away any outstanding issues while reminding them they’re capable, experienced and have much to offer.
I know this sounds easy but it takes courage and a lot of self-reflection to move from here to there. Especially since for most of us, identity and self-worth are tied with our work.
I use a metaphor with my clients. It goes like this: when we’re feeling low and all consumed (as we are when our confidence is low and desperation high) we look downward. I’ll ask the client to look up and over the fence toward the horizon. Practicing this throughout the day opens up their chest, breathing and vantage point. It moves them from being an isolated island to being part of something bigger. It’s called perspective.
I know the client is ready to put all their hard work into action when I see them look up at me and I hear “I can do this”.
They can move ahead realistically and with sureness. Having an open attitude improves their chances of finding the “right fit” position.
To recap, if you find yourself lacking in confidence and over the brim with desperation, here are 7 steps to move you from the sour odor of despair to the scent of a front runner:
1. Check if your self-talk is negative, self-sabotaging or unrealistic.
2. Think about how a prospective employer would view you should you interview with them today. Who and what would they see?
3. Talk with a trusted friend or family member about how you view your situation. Or hire a coach to guide and be your champion.
4. Think back to a time you were in a job you enjoyed. What made you successful? Write down the skills, attitude, and service you brought to that position (only the positive ones). Read the list every single day.
5. Take an athlete’s mindset. Set a realistic time frame – like several months – before you start applying for positions. Use the time to train to be successful again.
6. Practice lifting your head and noticing things around you everyday. Whether at home alone or in a crowd of people, notice what is going on way over there.
7. When you hear your own voice say, “I’m good. I’ve got this”, you’re ready to go and create your future.
So go ahead and put on your best scent – you’ve got this!
Over the past 3 years I have had 3 separate falls resulting in broken bones. Yes I realize I don’t have a great sense of balance (as hard as I work on it). But I also know that these accidents have stopped me dead in my tracks.
Fifteen years ago I had my first major fall resulting in 3 surgeries over several years. This too forced me to make some big decisions, like postponing grad school. It also gave me the opportunity to learn how to accept help from others. After all, I always felt it was my job to help everyone else.
In my coaching practice, I work with clients who are most often looking to change. It may be a job, a career path, or a different way of approaching something. Whatever the reason, we work toward establishing a viable plan. Once in place, I always ask the most important question – what will you take with you and what are you going to leave behind?
Most often the client is surprised. Why? Because they don’t realize they have a choice.
Up until a few years ago I believed that the faster I moved and the harder I worked, I would reach the Holy Grail of success. In today’s fast-paced world it was so easy to ramp myself up to follow the illusion of ambition. I put in long hours at work and self identified as a “high producer”. I became addicted to the thrill of creating at a fast pace. The endorphins would flow and I would announce unabashedly to my boss “I LOVE my job!” And at times I did love my job. But there was a cost.
Fast forward several years and everything is different – especially my perspective. I have learned that life is a marathon – not a sprint.
So what changed?
Here is the truth. When we are lacking confidence, it is because some things aren’t right in our life. There I have said it.
If this makes you feel squeamish, keep reading.
In my coaching practice, the one thing many women bring is a lack of confidence. It manifests in many different ways. They may not feel they deserve to put themselves first or it could be fear of failure. They may even believe they aren’t good enough. And so these women continue through life living according to how others think they should.
In all these women’s lives there is something they are not doing – owning up to their confidence. What do I mean? They aren’t paying attention to what isn’t working in their life. It could be one thing eating away at them. Most often, they don’t even realize what that one thing is. They have chosen to ignore it. And guess what, it is holding them back.