A few weeks ago, one of my employees asked me what I did to get where I am today. Just like everyone else, I have a hindsight story of opportunities and circumstances. While that’s all interesting, unless you’re going back in time and trying to replicate my career to this point, it’s not helpful for someone looking to advance their own career. When I think about the things that helped me along the way, they’re really quite simple and can apply to anyone, anywhere. I believe you have to prepare and not expect to take advantage of opportunities. Things do not happen on your own timeline. The story only makes sense when you look back at it. But, if you’re looking to advance your career, here are some things that I relied on and hopefully you can too.
1. Relationships. People are the only thing that matters. Invest in others and it will payoff in ways you can’t imagine. I’m not advocating to go out and form fake friendships and leverage them. Some people won’t be your jam, and that’s cool, they probably don’t vibe you either. Find your kindred spirits and give to them with no expectation of return. People will spot inauthenticity in a second. Not only will this set you up for opportunities and success in the long game, but it’ll make the short term a heck of a lot more fun. When I think back about the meaningful relationships I’ve had in my life and career, what I remember most is what I learned from that person. Was I able to watch their behavior and emulate it? Did I learn about a new perspective that taught me empathy? Did I see what made them unique and awesome and then learn how to uncover that in my own self? Once I started spending time learning about the people that I worked with, what made them special, what made them tick, how they saw the world, solved problems, asked questions, dealt with challenges, and made mistakes, I can honestly say that my own personal trajectory went exponential.
2. There’s enough for everyone. There is not one bigger career staller than putting others down to get ahead. There is room for everyone, opportunity for everyone, and the more we all win, the more we all win! I’ve seen plenty of people try to get ahead by stepping on others or taking credit for work that wasn’t theirs. It is not the way to go for a career or for being a good human. When you see people getting ahead faster than you, take the time to figure out a way to be happy for them. Then, after you’re good and happy for them, take a look at what you can learn. Some questions for thought are: what did they do, how did they execute, what struggles did they overcome, and how good at communicating are they. Learning is always your best opportunity.
3. Don’t wait for direction. Chances are, you have something to offer that no one knows about. If you’re sitting around waiting for someone else to discover it or know your inner dialogue or abilities, you’re wasting precious time. Here’s a secret, no one is thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves. My point is, if you have an idea, do it. If you have a project and you think you have something to add, do what you’re asked, then do the extra thing too. What’s the worst that can happen? You do some extra work that gets dismissed. You still gained good experience and learning doing it in the first place. It’s the little extra things that got me ahead. I never sacrificed what I was responsible for, I just added them on. They got me ahead because I learned a lot from doing them, but some of them also paid off by exposing skills to people that didn’t know I had those skills or potential. It also demonstrates a killer work ethic. My word of caution is similar to the relationship advice I gave above. Make sure you’re giving without expectation. That’s the key to all of this. I can point to something I did in each of my jobs that was above and beyond my responsibilities. I like the personal satisfaction of doing work that I assigned myself. And I was ok if that was all that I got from it. In hindsight though, those little projects and things were what set me apart and put me at the top of the list when opportunities came up.
4. Don’t ever stop looking for learning. How you do this is totally up to you. How I did it was by capitalizing on 90 minutes a day in commuting time to open up my brain to audiobooks and podcasts. I love “reading” and I get super pumped about the new thing I learned or how my perspective changed and can’t wait to apply it to what I have going on. I’ve also seen people learn new things by listening to people around them more intently, going on a search for feedback, studying human behavior, volunteering for things to get an inner look, taking additional courses, etc. The way you do it, isn’t important. Find what feels good for you and go do it. I’ve learned to love learning as an adult and it has taken me far. Again, I’ll say that when I started leaning into this, I got so far so fast. It’s like a catapult. So, if you’re stuck, start learning.
When thinking back to the original question and removing all of the circumstances that I took advantage of, these are the common threads that helped me get to this point. They are also what I’m relying on now to prepare me for the next part of my story. The topics change, the goals change, the priorities change, but the way you set yourself up for your definition of success doesn’t.
What advice would you have given your younger self? What questions do you really want to ask people you see as successful today? If you’re stuck, are there things I’ve mentioned or things you’ve discovered to help you unstick? Comment below.