Discovered the Trick to Career Success? | The Magic’s Up Your Sleeve

Career success seems so elusive as we face constant changes in the work environment and economy. Here’s a post I wrote in 2010 to help sort things out and form the basis of a plan.

Success is out there—somewhere. We watch others achieve it, but why not us? They don’t seem any smarter than we are. So what’s the trick?

We assume the answer’s in all those how-to books, so we read them. We go to presentations by celebrated experts, follow bloggers, and invest in webinars. These are all good things to do, but….

No one can tell you how to get the success you want. Why? Because they aren’t you!

We’re all in the same boat. Getting to success is a struggle. So what’s the winning formula? 

I can’t tell you that. No one can. We have to figure it out ourselves. No whining or complaining. No funny business or short cuts. And, hardest of all to swallow, no guarantees!

There are some concrete steps you can take to get started or to keep going if you feel stalled. Here goes:

1. Answer this: What do I want my life to look like when I cross the finish line? 

Describe what you see in your mind’s eye: your surroundings and location, who’s there and who’s not, and what you do on a typical day. Write it all down and save it. What you describe tells you what you want to achieve, what you’ll be working toward, and how you want it to come together.

2. Then answer: What career work fits me? 

The right career feels like lycra: a close (actually intimate) fit that supports you as you move freely in any direction. Lots of people wear burlap instead. They may find success but it comes with a rash. Real success includes work satisfaction, growth, and fair rewards.

3.  Can work in that career get me the success I want? If no, now what?

Sometimes the work you love doesn’t pay well or offer advancement. That means you’ll have to add another work component to your success plan.

There is no rule that says all of our income must come from one source, our job. Additional revenue can come from freelance work, side businesses, and on-line services/sales. The internet offers many new paths for adding revenue. It’s time to explore.

4. Visualize the success you want. Pick up on the vibes.

If visualizing didn’t help golfers make tournament winning putts, they wouldn’t pay their sports psychologists to teach them how to do it.  Every athlete who wins a championship says the same thing: “I’ve imagined this moment since I was 9.”

Once you focus on the success you want and the career work you love, you’ll find yourself noticing articles in the paper, segments on TV, comments at work, and on-line posts that will move you forward.

5. Write the words that describe the success you want and the paths you’ll explore to get it.

Writing things down makes them real and prevents you from side-stepping the work you need to do. When you explore options, you will stay open to alternatives until you’ve settled on the winning direction.

Anyone can do this. It’s not magic. 

I struggle and question just like you. The success I wanted was a life in the country, working for myself, helping others achieve their own career and business goals.

To get this far meant passing through many seemingly unrelated gates. I was a high school English teacher, a social worker, a corporate manager. While I was employed, I made extra income as a practice management consultant for veterinarians, then as a horse breeder and art dealer.

Each path led me to the life that I visualized. My definition and measure of success isn’t yours and yours isn’t mine. We each own the success we seek—that’s the beauty of it.

Don’t let anyone else define success for you. That’s important to becoming business fit. Own your success goals and desires. It’s what’s up your sleeve that matters. Keep looking—there’s a rabbit in there somewhere!

Photo from garethjmsaunders via Flickr

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

Superstar or Has Been? | Career Tips to Stay On Top

The rush is in the reaching. Ask any athlete whose career is on the rise. Every day is about putting it all out there for the team, the fans, and the games they love. Winning is the driver, the measure of their contribution and achievement.

Their personal value rises when they: 

  • win a championship
  • get selected for the All-Star Team
  • receive Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors 

There’s nothing quite like attaining superstar status, especially in our careers. It’s exciting, often representing the reward for years of struggle and hard work. 

The moment we’re tapped as “best” is when our career life changes. 

The meaning of the moment 

When we’re recognized, we’re elated. We bask in the: 

  • Public recognition of our value
  • Upcoming opportunities to showcase our talents
  • Access to company leaders
  • Deference and/or congratulations from our coworkers 

Our moment passes quickly, though, just like the All-Star Game or that “I’m going to Disney World” TV shot. What follows are new challenges. 

At work superstars are usually considered “comers“—high potential performers and/or  succession plan designees. They’re the company’s MVPs. 

Their status is generally achieved through performance results over time and the endorsement of the leadership, not necessarily in equal measure. 

The bottom line: Someone thinks you have “it” and the company wants to put “it” to the test and benefit from the outcome. 

Sustaining momentum 

Superstar status raises your bar. When a broader audience starts paying attention to you, there’s pressure to perform at a higher level.

 Superstar moments launch new expectations for more and better performance like: 

  • Delivering significant outcomes on more complex projects
  • Assuming greater levels of authority and responsibility
  • Demonstrating tolerance for stress and the ability to perform under fire
  • Engaging effectively with powerful influencers
  • Negotiating with high profile customers or political officials 

You know what happens in sports: Last year’s MVP needs to increase on-field performance or hear about how s/he has declined. This year’s baseball All Star better hit well during the second half of the season or be questioned. 

Once we’re designated as a high potential player at work, if we don’t live up to expectations, we can fall out of favor and see our careers go downhill.

Avoiding “has been-ship” 

It’s difficult to get recognized as a top performer and even harder to sustain it.

In our jobs, success measures combine the objective and the subjective, the concrete and the abstract. But they count just as much as batting averages or yards per carry. 

To keep your superstar status up, these actions are essential: 

Remain relevant—Keep your knowledge, skills, and experiences ahead of the curve by staying up on innovation, politics, economic issues, and industry challenges; Be the voice of “what’s coming”

Maintain strong connections—Leverage is essential; Build, tighten, and expand your relationships in every direction, both inside and outside your company; Create allies and be one

Over-deliver—Make sure the results you and/or your department produce exceed expectations without exceeding costs, always improving the process

Engage employees—The ability to build and sustain a positive, can-do group of employees, engaged in their work, performing professionally, with little drama, and without giving away the store cements your value

Stay in the mix—Be there. Make sure you have a seat at the table. It helps to be likeable, a source of proper levity, and a voice of reason. When decisions don’t feel right to others unless you’ve been consulted, that’s a plus.

 Keep a clear head

 The rarefied air of superstardom at work can muddle our thinking unless we’re careful. Being recognized is important and when we get it, we should enjoy and value it. Our next moves, though, need to be informed and steady. Getting to the top is only the first step. Staying there is often the bigger one. Go for it! 

Photo of Phillies 2011 All-Star pitcher, Cliff Lee, from Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr

Figured Out the Trick to Career Success? | The Magic’s Up Your Sleeve

Success is out there—somewhere. We watch others achieve it, but not us. They don’t seem any smarter than we are. So what’s the trick? 

We assume the answer’s in all those how-to books, so we read them. We go to presentations by celebrated experts, follow bloggers, and invest in webinars. These are all good things to do, but…. 

No one can tell you how to get the success you want. Why? They aren’t you! 

We’re all in the same boat. Getting to success is a struggle. So what’s the winning formula? 

I can’t tell you that. No one can. We have to figure it out ourselves. No whining or complaining. No funny business or short cuts. And, hardest of all to swallow, no guarantees! 

There are some concrete steps you can take to get started or to keep going if you feel stalled. Here goes: 

1. Answer this: What do I want my life to look like when I cross the finish line? 

Describe what you see in your mind’s eye: your surroundings and location, who’s there and who’s not, and what you do on a typical day. What you describe tells you what you want to achieve, what you’ll be working toward, and how you want it to come together. 

2. Then answer: What career work fits me?  

The right career feels like lycra: a close (actually intimate) fit that supports you as you move freely in any direction. Lots of people wear burlap instead. They may find success but it comes with a rash. Real success includes work satisfaction, growth, and fair rewards.

3.  Can that career work get me the success I want? If no, now what? 

Sometimes the work you love doesn’t pay well or offer advancement. That means you’ll have to add another work component to your success plan. 

There is no rule that says all of our income must come from one source, our job. Additional revenue can come from freelance work, side businesses, and incidental services. The internet offers many new paths for adding revenue. It’s time to explore. 

4. Visualize the success you want. Pick up on the vibes.

If visualizing didn’t help golfers make tournament winning putts, they wouldn’t pay their sports psychologists to teach them how to do it.  Every athlete who wins a championship says the same thing: “I’ve imagined this moment since I was 9.” 

Once you focus on the success you want and the career work you love, you will find yourself noticing articles in the paper, segments on TV, comments at work, and on-line posts that will move you forward. 

5. Write the words that describe the success you want and the paths you’ll explore to get it. 

Writing things down makes them real and prevents you from playing sleight of hand with them. When you explore options, you will stay open to alternatives until you’ve settled on the winning direction. 

Anyone can do this. It’s not magic. 

I struggle and question just like you. The success I wanted was life in the country, working for myself, helping others achieve their own career and business goals. 

To get this far meant passing through many seemingly unrelated gates. I was a high school English teacher, a social worker, a corporate manager. While I was employed, I made extra income as a practice management consultant for veterinarians, then as a horse breeder and art dealer.

Each path led me to the life that I visualized. My definition and measure of success isn’t yours and yours isn’t mine. We each own the success we seek—that’s the beauty of it. 

Don’t let anyone else define success for you. That’s important to becoming business fit. Own your success goals and desires. It’s what’s up your sleeve that matters. Keep looking—there’s a rabbit in there somewhere! 

How do you define success for yourself? What are the challenges you face in pursuing it? Your insights will help the rest of us.