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

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?