Mistakes Are Career Assets. Capitalizing on Yours?

Mistakes are vital to success. They’re the fuel, the awakenings, and the pathways to achievement.

Each mistake is an aha moment, some more painful or illuminating than others.

You need your mistakes to keep moving ahead, to get better, to reach your goals. Embrace them to extract the most benefit.

Asset building

Most of us hate making mistakes. The worst are the ones we get called out on, the ones everyone knows about, and those that make us look inept. Me too.

Our mistakes have an uncanny ability to put us in a strangle hold that’s difficult to shake off. Mistakes sap our:

  • Self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Desire to try again
  • Feelings of self-worth and self-belief
  • Optimism about the future

In reality, our mistakes aren’t the culprit. We are.

We’re the ones who give negative power to our mistakes when we:

  • Inflate their significance (This will haunt me my whole career.)
  • Attribute dire consequences (I could get fired because of this.)
  • Beat ourselves up (I am such a loser.)
  • Feel beaten (I just don’t have the talent for this work.)

Most of us over blow our gaffs at work. Making mistakes, though, is something we have in common with each of our coworkers, and even our bosses. No one is immune.

The old adage is true: If you aren’t making mistakes at work, then you aren’t doing anything.

Mistakes are a sign that you’ve taken action toward the results you’re being paid for. No one thinks you’re trying to make mistakes. So when you do, let it be known that you’ve learned something.

Few of us make mistakes that are catastrophic. Most of them are more like atmospheric disturbances than category 4 hurricanes.

A mistake pinpoints a situation-based skill or awareness level missing in your arsenal.

When you make a mistake, you need to figure out:

  • What it was
  • What caused it
  • How to correct it
  • How to avoid it in the future

Each mistake gives you the chance to expand your capabilities, savvy, and confidence– career assets with a real future pay off.

Capitalizing

Instead of fearing mistakes, learn to accept and embrace them. The mistakes most detrimental to your career are the ones you keep making under the same circumstances. So you need to avoid being a recidivist.

Believe it or not, most bosses are encouraged when they see you turn a mistake into a learning moment, followed by efforts to improve.

Here are some typical mistakes and how to capitalize on them:

  1. Performance errors–You make an error setting up a spreadsheet, making key metrics unreliable. A coworker catches it. You see where you goofed and quickly come up with a better control that you share with your boss. Your credibility is restored.
  2. Relationship misreads–You put your confidence in a hard-driving coworker to complete an important part of the project you’re leading. When you ask for the status, you’re told all is well. You accept that, but when the deadline arrives, her part is incomplete. You admit to your boss that you never asked her for specifics and that you learned how not to be caught this way again.
  3. Naiveté–You volunteer to serve as acting supervisor for your work group while your boss is on leave. You’ve attended supervisory training, know the work, and believe you have leadership skills. Soon you realize your coworkers aren’t accepting you as their supervisor. Interpersonal issues arise and the work erodes. When your boss returns, you debrief him, explaining what you’ve learned and your plan to improve.

Don’t hide

It’s tempting to want to hide from your mistakes, but that only devalues them and erodes your integrity. Admitting and owning your mistakes is the first step to capitalizing on their value.

When your coworkers and boss understand that you see mistakes as the way that you improve, they’ll be inclined to help you.

Owing your mistakes sets a powerful example that doubles their asset value, turning them into real career capital.

Hungry for a Hearty Career? Stir Up Your Tolerance for Starting Over.

Most of us dread starting over. It means more cursed change.

Some profess to love change, believing it’s about new beginnings. Those wary of change understand it’s about ends.

Nothing changes unless something stops. Whether we’re optimistic about the change or not, we’re still left with the impacts of “end-ness:”

  • Familiar routines become undone
  • Our role is defined differently
  • Relationship dynamics are affected
  • Adapting to new processes and tools is required
  • Performance expectations shift
  • Opportunities for advancement blur

You’re hard pressed to develop a rich career without embracing change, even as it turns your world upside down.

A career of many colors

The days of cradle-to-grave careers (and even professions) are over, cry as some might. Ours is a business world of movement, innovation, mergers, technological advancement, and speed.

As business changes, the outlines of our careers change with it. We need to see ourselves in the business of building a career path that has sustainability and heft.

You may have a degree in education, computer science, marketing, finance, or business administration. Today that just means you’ve demonstrated the ability to learn, to perform proficiently against standards, and to conduct yourself appropriately in a learning environment.

How any of that a contributes to developing a career is about what you do next.

A hearty career is the amalgamation of many steps and decisions, assembled in linear progression or wildly divergent.

You take the success potential out of building a career when you’re afraid to start over…and over…and over.

Your career is a business trip–you get in gear, follow one route for a while, arrive at one destination, see the sights, discover a new path, change or shift gears, and set yourself in motion again.

Some people arrive at their first career destination and stay there. Very few find their dream jobs, at least right away. But you can tell those who have stopped dreaming or even looking. They complain about pretty much everything.

That’s generally what happens when you’re afraid to start over.

Big careers start small.

It’s the rare person who knows what they want to do with their life while a teenager. But that’s where career paths too often get started.

You see where you get your best grades, assume that’s where your talents are, and set your sights on schools that will credential you. Then you go into the job market, promote your abilities, and get your first real job.

That initial job is your first, small step on the road to a potentially big career ahead. Chances are, though, you’ll have to find the courage to choose from many forks in the road to get there.

Do you want to:

  • Stay in sales or move into marketing?
  • Continue as a company programmer or join an app development start up?
  • Remain a classroom teacher or launch an on-line course design company?
  • Commit to a family-owned business or work in a Fortune 100 company?
  • Play forever as a country band singer/guitarist or go solo in Nashville?

Building a big career means making smart choices. It’s not about following your passion but rather about building a strong base of tested skills and experiences that are your marketable assets. (No one makes this case more strongly than Cal Newport in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.)

Every career decision you make builds on the previous ones, both the good and the bad.

Careers are the ultimate platform for self-discovery, and if you’re lucky, some company is paying you while you figure out your best path.

Fight the fear.

Starting over is scarier than staying put. A lot of worry often comes with your choices.

But when there’s a great opportunity that’s right in front of you, that’s the moment when you must face your fear of change and go for it. So stir up your tolerance for starting over and satisfy your  hunger for a fulfilling career.

 

Ready to Tackle Drama, Change, Fear, and Accountability? Follow 5 Reality-Based Rules.

Wakeman 9781118413685_p0_v3_s260x420I love a straight-shooter, someone who cuts through the fluff and excuses to expose the unvarnished realities of the workplace. That’s what I discovered with Cy Wakeman when I was invited to blog about the insights in her new book, The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace. We may not like to see the sides of ourselves revealed in her pages, but the insights will makes us better, happier, and more successful.

A lot goes on around us at work. It’s easy to become oblivious to much of it until we get caught in the crossfire.

Too often our own naiveté about what our companies and bosses expect of us causes us to adopt attitudes and behaviors that are detrimental. To succeed we need to understand the realities that drive business and the often unspoken  rules that, when followed, will propel us in the right direction.

Face yourself.                                    

In her new book, The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace, business consultant and speaker, Cy Wakeman, cuts to the chase on the behaviors that will make or break your success.

She gets it about why we are lured down the paths of wrong thinking and provides clear steps to get us back on track. She never deviates from the point that success is about how you and I choose to think and act.

Wakeman reminds us that:  cy wakeman b03fcc37bdbc0a7f02356f_L__V396196531_SX200_

When you feel vulnerable, even defensive, it’s all too easy to blame the economy, political leaders, your boss–everyone except the one person you can control: yourself.

…no one is born accountable, self-reliant, self-mastered, and resilient, yet these are the qualities that count, the ones that will fill you with confidence….

To become what she calls  ”happy high-performers,” we need to take stock of ourselves. Through her self-rating checklists and strategies to increase your rating score, you can assess:

  • Your current performance
  • Your future potential
  • Your emotional expensiveness (the cost of being a high maintenance employee)

To assess emotional expensiveness she asks if:

  • “You are dramatic….
  • You come to work in a bad mood.
  • You share a lot of personal information with coworkers….
  • You complain a lot, or judge others.
  • You have an entitled or victim mind-set….”

With your answers in mind, she adds a positive perspective:

…good things come to those who are Emotionally Inexpensive. They are magnets for jobs, promotions, raises, and opportunities of all kinds.

Wakeman makes a strong point about the importance of determining where we stand in the context of our workplace, so we can build a career sustaining strategy.

She writes:

Meeting performance expectations is now the price of keeping your job. But it isn’t enough to guarantee you anything extra–recognition, benefits, or job security.

5 reality-based rules

It’s not uncommon for us to struggle to understand what’s really going on around us at work.

It’s also not uncommon to need help understanding the reality of our own behaviors: what’s driving us, who do we let influence our thinking, how do we overcome our fears, and what are we doing to enable our own happiness.

Wakeman’s five reality-based rules help you sort through the maze. Here are the rules and a peek at Wakeman’s insights about them:

1. Accountability determines happiness

You will get results when you stop…focusing on what is happening “to” you, and focus on…what you can do …to compete, to deliver, and to succeed.

2. Ditch the drama.

Without drama weighing you down , you will be free to make accountable choices, free of your stories and excuses, free of your and other people’s drama.

3. Action adds value.

If your motive is to stop the course of action or question a decision, change your focus from why it won’t work to how you can help make it work. Get willing, buy in, and use your expertise to mitigate the risks you see.

4. See change as opportunity.

Be ready for what’s next….Don’t let fear of failure stop you from trying.

5. Face extenuating circumstances and succeed anyway.

Confront conflicts early, calmly, and in a spirit of teamwork…Ask, ‘How can I help?’ Get clear on goals, roles, and procedures.

Aha moments

The road to career success is paved with aha moments and Wakeman provides a plethora of them in her book. You will find yourself, your boss, your coworkers, and many people outside of work there.

Understanding how your attitudes, behaviors, and self-deception can create toxicity is a powerful realization. Realizing and practicing a new and more savvy perspective enables you to see things with the clarity you need

Ready for the Big Stage or Too Freaked Out? | Handling Pressure

A some point you’ll likely ask yourself: “Do I have what it takes to be really successful at what I do?”

Role models provide clues to the answer. Look hard at what they’ve achieve and you’ll see they were willing to put themselves “out there.”

Now ask yourself, “Can I handle it when all eyes are on me?” Your answer either makes your blood run cold or excites you. In either case, it’s time to get prepared.

Understanding the big stage                                                                                        

Many of us go merrily along in our careers as part of a work group or team. We do our part but always in the context of others.

If we want our careers to grow, we need to demonstrate our unique talents and leadership to a broader audience.

You know you’re on the big stage when you look around and realize, at that moment, you’re alone with all the responsibility to perform exceptionally. There’s no one to lean on, save the day, or absorb the consequences.

It’s up to you alone to deliver your best and deal with the outcome.

Examples of big stage performers are everywhere:

  • Singles tennis players facing an opponent across the net in front of 10,000 spectators, many of whom are not rooting for them; they’re on their own–no coach, no trainer, no teammate
  • Live TV news anchors who carry their programs, changing gears seamlessly as updates are communicated through their ear pieces; there’s no stopping to catch their breaths, no one to bail them out.
  • Keynote speakers who need show up and then hold the attention of diverse audiences while delivering a meaningful message; there’s no one to step in when it’s not going well
  • Surgeons who literally have the lives and/or future well-being of patients in their hands, while other medical professionals watch; all accountability for the outcome is on them

There’s a big stage in every profession whether you’re a teacher/trainer, attorney, dancer, project manager, business owner, sales executive, or community leader.

It can be a lonely place or an exhilarating one. If you want to rise, you need to be able to take the stage when called upon and handle the inevitable heat.

Preparing for your role

Only a fool willingly steps onto the big stage before s/he’s ready.

When it’s our turn for the spotlight, we need to be equipped to handle the pressure. Advanced preparation is essential. We need to hone our skills, make a plan, practice, and visualize what success looks like.

We also need to be ready for the unexpected.

So, take a readiness assessment by asking yourself, “While all eyes are on me, will be I able to:”

  • Deliver the goods
  • Switch gears when I need to
  • Deal with or ignore distractions
  • Be mentally tough enough to stay on track
  • Use humor to defuse or deflect a misstep or issue
  • Trust what I know and my ability to execute my skills
  • Take advantage of opportunities to hit a home run
  • Draw on the energy of the moment to maintain motivation

Then work on things that need strengthening.

It’s easy to get freaked out about the big stage. We let ourselves get paralyzed by the pressure and the irrational belief that we might fail in such a big way that our careers will be ruined.

Don’t let that be you. Winners avoid beating themselves.

Pressure is your friend.

It wakes up your brain and gives it something exciting to process.

If you don’t believe that think of all the people who have failed at one business only to succeed at another, lost one election and won a bigger one, finished out of the money in numerous golf tournaments and then won a championship.

If you don’t work to get on the big stage and take your place when it’s offered, you’ll have no chance of grabbing your brass ring. You must play to win.

Succumbing to the fear of failure invites failure. Learning how to contend with pressure on the big stage is the path to career success and a special pride in yourself. Let the show go on!

Photo from loop_oh via Flickr

The Price of Doing What’s Right—Willing to Pay it? | Leadership Courage

Coming face-to-face with “wrong” tests the leader in you. Doing something about it tests your courage.                     

To get around both, people say: 

  • It’s not my job.
  • Someone must have authorized that.
  • It must be okay if my boss is doing it.
  • I just don’t know enough to step in.
  • I don’t want to get involved in something messy. 

When we know something is wrong and don’t intervene, we become culpable. So whatever happens in the near or long-term, we share the blame. 

The power of fear 

Lots of bad things go on at work: 

  • Bullying and harassment
  • Lying and records tampering
  • Misuse of technology
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Collusion and fraud 

We may witness things that are a big deal or seemingly minor, like the difference between a bold-face lie and a white one. Both are, of course, lies. 

We may sense that something isn’t right or see it clear as day. In both cases, we are faced with a choice—to speak/act or stay silent/do nothing. 

There are laws that protect whistle blowers which may be of small comfort. We’re often more concerned about what will happen to us if we “go to someone in authority.” Once we do that, our work life and/or our career likely changes forever. 

So we’re faced with what we stand for and who we really are—someone more interested in our own best interest or an advocate for doing what’s right. That’s a question to ask your reflection in the nearest mirror. 

Stand tall 

No matter where you are on the organization chart, you’re in a position to protect what’s right. Recently, Chris Matthews from MSNBC’s Hardball called attention to those “people with moral authority who perform in a lowly way” when speaking about the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. 

Matthews reminded viewers that there are people in authority who are more interested in protecting what’s good for them and the brand of their organization than doing what’s morally and ethically right for individuals, the community, and/or society. 

Jack McCallum, long time writer for Sports Illustrated and grad school friend of mine, recently wrote a column about an interview he’d done with alleged sexual predator, Jerry Sandusky from Penn State, where Jack confessed he’d been fooled about the guy. 

Jack shared these insights with a college class he was teaching that included discussion about “group mindset and the power of the brand:”

We do not know all that happened at Penn State, but we know this much: The Football Program, the engine that brings in $50 million profit and defines the school much more than its outstanding academic curriculum, is to be protected at all costs. Over the years — through national championships, expansion of Beaver Stadium, the flood of donor millions and canonization of Saint Joe — that mindset had calcified and become S.O.P. [standard operating procedure], as it does at so many football power palaces. 

At some time in the future, I told the members of my class, there’s a good chance they will be asked to choose between protecting the institution and doing the right thing. That choice will not be simple because there is strength in numbers, security in the collective and a selfish investment in group success. Doing the right thing is sometimes the hardest thing when it should be the easiest.

Chris Matthews makes the point that we each need to fight to protect right and undo wrong by bringing it into our roles, whatever they are and wherever we work.

Call to action

It’s time to ask yourself some “What would I do questions?” How far are you willing to go to protect one person, a group, your company, or society? It’s a question that leads to answers about your courage, leadership, and conviction.

I have written before how important it is to be vigilant at work. Always ask yourself, “What’s really going on here?” and “What is this person about?” Both questions will help you see what others don’t, position you to act with confidence, and recognize what’s just and what isn’t.

Photo from bean45cc via Flickr

Career Turning Points—Dumb Luck, Daily Grind, or Positioning?

Careers evolve in countless ways. When we look back, we can usually identify the turning points, pivotal moments, and even epiphanies that have jolted our careers, hopefully, forward. 

My last post about “small bangs” (pivotal moments) that create career momentum prompted a terrific comment from professional journalist and blogger, Vickie Elmer. She wrote:

When I write a business leader’s profile, I sometimes ask about their “crucial turning points,” another term for pivotal moments. They always have great stories to share. I wonder how often we recognize them as they are happening and how often they just seem like another task or another game? How do we recognize them and make the most of them, especially when they are surprises? I’d love to hear more from you on this topic.

I believe the answers reveal a great deal about the way we look at things.

Tune in. 

Pivotal moments become turning points. If we can’t recognize a pivotal moment, we won’t turn.

We each get lots of them, so if we fail to recognize them all, we’ll likely get another chance or bump into a friend who clues us in.

We increase our chances of recognizing pivotal moments when we’re reasonably clear about what we want from our careers.

It’s easy for us to glibly say: “I want a job that I love with good pay and an opportunity to get promoted.” Vagaries don’t cut it.

You need to get laser-focused on what you’re looking for. Then you can let some pivotal moments come to you and others you can shop for.

Zero in: Write down what you want from your career. Read it every day to imbed in your mind what it is that you’re after. Then watch for pivotal moment opportunities.

Here’s what I wanted from my corporate career and what drove my choices: The opportunity to influence decision-making no matter what my title or what department I worked in. I was not interested in climbing the corporate ladder. I just wanted to do meaningful work with outcomes that mattered.

Now pay attention to what’s going on around you.

The signs 

Once you know what you’re after, you’ll be better able to detect opportunities that could become your turning points like:

Dumb luck: Some pivotal moments are surprises like being tapped at the last minute to lead a meeting of movers and shakers (increased visibility), bumping into an important client at a community meeting (relationship building), or reading an article in the paper that tips you off about a job opportunity (advantage).

Daily grind: The work you do day after day can become an eventual career turning point like management’s recognition of your technical or leadership expertise, your ability to bring assignments to closure, or your talent for seeing the big picture, all of which gives you a leg up for a next move.

Positioning: You can attract turning points by seizing opportunities to increase your level of engagement like volunteering for assignments out of your comfort zone, letting your aspirations be known to your boss or mentor, and demonstrating a willingness to take on challenges, particularly those others avoid.

Fear not. 

Many turning point opportunities are missed because we’re loath to act out of fear of failure, lack of self-confidence, low commit to our goals, and naiveté.

  • If you’re vague about your career desires, you’ll miss the pivotal moments.
  • If you don’t believe that those moments are in your future, you’ll miss them again.
  • If you discount the fact that careers are part luck and part talent, pivotal moments will likely be lost.

Yes, turning points are easier to identify after they’ve materialized and elusive before. That’s the “hindsight is 20/20” thing.

However, the clearer you are about where you want your career to go, the more likely that you’ll spot and then seize on those pivotal moments, using them smartly.

Photo from h.koppdelaney via Flickr

Stuck? Try Getting Out of Your Own Way! | Overcoming Risk Aversion

Mistakes are a bummer. We don’t like being on the receiving end (like when they don’t’ “hold the onion”) or on the doing end (like when you miss a due date). Some mistakes have greater consequences than others, but we never quite know how great. 

Mistakes lurk, so be heroic.  

Keep working. Get stuff done. Make decisions. Choose options. Make your best guess.

You’ve been given a job to do…so just do it! No one else is.

Business is a machine. It thrives on forward motion created by people doing things that need to be done.

Your life is a business too. So, you need forward motion to find a job, navigate a career, and position your future.

Every time we take action, we leave ourselves open for both mistakes and success. Most of the time, the success odds are in our favor!

Trial and error is a good thing. It’s one way we figure things out! 

So why do we obsess so much about maybe “doing it wrong?” Unless the consequences of a mistake are death or financial ruin, there’s little reason to defer action.

Now, I’m not proposing that we act without thinking, planning, and considering consequences. I am proposing that once we’ve done reasonable thinking, planning and considering, we act. (Haven’t read Seth Godin’s, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? It’s time.) 

When we don’t act, it’s often because we fear:

  • Negative judgments by others (our who and why never explained)  
  • Looking stupid or naïve (the rationale, basis, and likelihood unstated)
  • Disappointing ourselves (the result of a bar we set too high)
  • Becoming trapped (our baseless belief that situations control our future)
  • Personal loss—(the notion that there is some concrete price to pay

These fears will paralyze us if we let them.  

Shackles you choose are still shackles. 

The relentless pursuit of approval and permission coupled with the endless need for more information, discussion, and analysis becomes self-imposed career imprisonment.

Analysis to paralysis is what it’s often called. It happens when you believe you need just one more bit of information, insight, and affirmation before you’re safe enough to act.

Problem: There are unknowns, surprises, and discoveries in every decision.  It’s the “successful people” who come up with winning discoveries and get credit for them, even when it all started from mistakes they made.

The people who end up in the best careers often got there by stumbling through jobs that took them to places they never imagined, both good and bad. They just kept moving along and discovering things while doing quality work.

You can’t become a success when you stand in your own way, waiting for analysis and approval to open doors.

Please, let this be like you. 

Karen was a call center support specialist who knew I needed a call monitoring feedback system fair to our reps. On her own, she found out what other companies did, discussed the law with Legal, and drafted a process for me and my boss to consider, all in short order. A smart, gutsy move for her career.

Herb was a union guy, servicing electric meters. He wanted to move into management but didn’t have the best credentials. He bid on a mobile exhibit job covering a 10,000 square mile area. During the interview, I asked him to write an essay about why he wanted the job. That threw him, but he gave it a go, not knowing where this “no job security” position would take him. In time, he became a respected marketing manager…not bad!

Believe in yourself…because you should! 

Look around. The success you want is within your reach. You just need to be willing to reach for it! The more actions you take, the more ground you gain. Business fitness is about building momentum toward your goals. So pull on your best sneaks and hit the trail!

What fears have held you back along the way? How did you reduce or overcome them? Any advice is a real gift!