Watch Out! Great Careers Can Creep Up on You

Where we start isn’t always where we finish. At least that’s the case with many careers.

It’s crazy to think that when we’re in high school we’d have a clear idea about what we want to do for a lifetime. Nevertheless, we go on to technical school or college choosing a trade or a major which declares, “This is my future.”

The business world is a big place. There are tens of thousands of career paths in as many businesses. So choosing a career is mind-boggling. 

Sorting through it all 

The process usually begins with courses we liked best in school. I said, “My favorite subject is English. So I’ll major in that, minor in education, and become an English teacher.” Whew…I’m done. I’ve got a specialty and a career to go with it to pay the bills. So that was it—until, of course, it wasn’t! 

Careers often start out as a smooth and promising ride before reality changes things. I remember those early-days programmers who loved mastering   computer languages unique to the companies they worked for. It was all good until their companies abandoned those proprietary languages and said “good-bye” to the programmers. 

We need to look at every job as a learning platform that moves us toward a career that suits us. 

Resetting our course 

Each job reveals what motivates us and what doesn’t. We get to test our limits and our principles. We start to zone in on what we’re really good at and what we aren’t. 

If we’re smart, we work with a willingness to try new things, apply our skills in new ways, and meet people with different perspectives. 

Then things start to happen. We stop seeing ourselves as being owned by our jobs but being raised by them. We recognize that we can remix our talents and our interests for career opportunities that are a better fit. 

My disquiet about my early career in teaching led me to into consumer education and then senior manager jobs at a big company. Concurrently, one of my show dogs was ill, so I was often at the vet. Eventually, my veterinarian asked me for help which led to a consulting sidelight, the precursor to the practice I have today. This kind of career transitioning is out there for anyone who’s open to it. 

Take Ray Vallafane. According to CBS’ Steve Hartman, Ray has spent every October for the last 15 years in his basement studio, “reinventing the art of pumpkin carving. Using sculpting tools instead of knives. Ray can now take a pumpkin, and, over the course of about eight hours, transform it into a museum-quality fruit.”  Ray was a former grade school teacher who turned a pastime into a full-time carving career that also led him to sculpting models for toy companies.  Not bad! 

Then there was Jim Nicholson from the Philadelphia Daily News and now Kay Powell at the Atlanta Journal Constitutional, both journalists who, according to CBS’ Jeff Greenfield, took steps “to breathe new life” into obituary writing. Instead of writing stilted chronicles, they brought ordinary people to life with recollections and anecdotes. These writers forged a unique niche in which they have set the standard.   

Let your real career come to you. 

Sometimes we try way too hard to nail down our careers before their time. Sometimes we’re so impatient that we miss what’s right in front of us. The more we resist what we really want, the more persistent the urge becomes. 

Achieving business fitness starts with committing to discovery. The key is never to rule out career options but to explore what you need to do to get closer to what you seek. Sometimes the right chance will fall into your lap and other times it will sneak up on you. Just do your best to be ready to grab it when it’s within reach! 

What career surprises have come your way? How were you able to spot and then seize them? Thanks.

Outgrown Your Britches? Check With Your Tailor. | Advancing Your Career in Good Style

Remember “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story by Hans Christian Andersen? Two weavers promise to make the Emperor a suit of clothes invisible to people unfit or incompetent for their positions. The Emperor slips into his new outfit and while parading before his subjects, a child yells out, “He isn’t wearing anything at all!”

It’s a classic story of being afraid to confront the truth, even when it makes us look stupid or compromises our brand. The more we want something to be true, the harder try we try to make it so.

This happens in our careers. 

If the shoe fits, wear it! Just don’t wear it out! 

A job that fits us is like fuzzy slippers. We don’t want to give it up. But a career isn’t about just one job. It’s about a family of them, one job after another that keeps stretching us, building our skills, and testing our abilities.

It’s a problem when we get so comfy in those slippers that we don’t want to take them off. After all, we can’t wear slippers in the snow or rain. We eventually need shoes and boots.

We can outgrow our footwear and our jobs. When we do, we need to make a change, even when it means an uncomfortable or imperfect fit at the start.

I once worked with a group of people I loved. They were like family. Coming to work everyday was really fun. After I’d spent five years with them, my boss told me there was position open that was perfect for me, a promotion. I adored my boss too and didn’t want to leave him or my colleagues. I told him so.

“There’s nothing left for me to teach you,” he said. “You’ve outgrown me and need to work for someone who will take you to the next step in your career.”

That advice always stuck with me. Even though it was hard to accept, he was right. It wasn’t that he was out of knowledge to impart. He just didn’t have enough organizational leverage, position power, or influence to help my growth.

You don’t have to have a generous boss like him to make that next step. You just need to remember his message and put it to work when the time is right for you.

Keep a mirror handy and check your reflection. 

We aren’t always lucky enough to have someone helping us see when we are or are not ready to make a smart career move.

Shakespeare wrote that seeming is not reality. Most of us have little real understanding of what is required to be successful in the jobs we’re after, especially ones with leadership requirements.

All we really know is what we think we see the incumbent doing. But that’s an illusion just like the Emperor’s new clothes.

That’s why you need trusted people to give you the straight scoop about your own capabilities. People like:

  • Mentors
  • Your boss, if you’re lucky enough to have a good one
  • Colleagues in your own and other departments
  • Friends outside of work who know your skills 

Then you have to be brave enough to ask them to tell you the truth…the naked truth!

In time you will also outgrow the insights these people can offer as you advance in your career. So you need to constantly seek others who can fill their role.

Be smart. Develop a winning style. 

Business fitness is about being prepared and ready for the challenges and opportunities that will help you attain the kind of success you want. Part of that readiness is having good people at hand to give you the right cues when it’s time to take center stage. So keep your britches up, your shoes tied, and your shirt on as you take on your next big role!

Have you ever been in a position where you outgrew your job? What were your next steps? How did it all work out?