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?