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