Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Managing your career and your life

As I'm guessing many of my readers are in their mid-20s to early 30s, I thought this post might interest some people seeing that most of us are probably at the stage in our jobs/careers that it's important to understand one simple truth: YOU MUST MANAGE YOUR OWN CAREER....because no one else will.

Now, that statement resonated strongly with me, when I made a big career change in 2008 from consulting to corporate finance. I had heard it many times, but I never "got it", but until I made that leap, I didn't realize that literally it was up to me in so many ways to decide what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be in the future and what I wanted to be doing and finally, have a proposed path on how to get there. What I knew when I switched jobs: where I was going seemed like a place that I would be happy working at and for a long time and the work I was going to be doing sounded challenging and needed to remain challenging to keep me interested and wanting to learn. Now that I have been in my current job for almost 2 years, my curiosity is now: how do you go about managing a career when you are in a place where you are happy??? I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit in a session with a leader at my company to hear what she had to say about it and it was wonderful. She provided some great tips and really gave some good suggestions as to how you make sure you get what/where you want.

1. VALUE. Every company desires an employee that bring true value to the company with the work they do, the customer service they provide, the ideas they generate, etc. So how do you add value in your job? What do you do that makes the company better and furthers your learning and experience? Do you add value by thinking of new, outside of the box ideas? Do you bring value in your creativity, work ethic, customer service, teaching/training skills (for all you teachers out there!)?

After listening to her talk about this, it astonished me that I couldn't name 4-5 concrete things off the top of my head that I do to TRULY add value to my job/department/company. So I immediately sat down and figured that out. If I think I'm valuable, I need to know what/how/why I am and remind myself of that regularly!

2. OPPORTUNITY. Everyone wants that chance, that opportunity, that trust instilled in them by their superiors to be successful. It's the American dream, right? In some way shape or form. Your company/employer gave you the opportunity. Make sure you use it to the best of your ability to ensure they want to give you many more opportunities to come!

3. CLARITY. What defines YOU, what are your values, and what is truly important to you? In a leadership conference I attended recently, the word clarity was used as one of the leadership traits of leaders...and it was interesting to me that one of the speakers connected clarity with VISION. I often feel like "visions" are developed in companies, organizations, schools, etc. that aren't 100% clear on what their ultimate goal is and defines clearly how to get there. Ensuring you have clarity in your own vision and even your companies vision will make you more aware of where you are going eventually and give you an idea of the steps on how to get there.

4. SOONER OR LATER, YOUR VALUES MUST ALIGN WITH THE ORGANIZATION'S VALUES. A very powerful and true statement that she said in the presentation. I completely agree with this and realized the importance of it very very early on in my career. This was one of the huge reasons that I switched companies so soon! Where do you stand with this statement? I feel like it's important to some now and to others it is not; but that's why I like the "later" in the statement. Because you don't have to always align with the companies values completely, as many jobs now are ones that give you the experience that you will use later, but I truly do believe this is a must eventually.

5. HAVE A SENTENCE. What is the one sentence that defines you and that you want people to think about your life, career, accomplishments? If you are clear on what you want to accomplish and what you want to portray to those around you, you provide yourself with clarity and others as well. This one was really hard for me. We did this in a conference I attended and putting all I want to accomplish and have people remember me by is HARD. But I think this is important, kind of similar to a life goal.

As those were the 5 big highlights of her presentation, she also gave us this equation to think about. And she made several references to calculus as she is an engineer by trade- which cracked me up because I haven't thought about those calculus equations since high school where they go to infinity. Haha. But anyways, this is what she showed us.

I had never seen a simple equation like this laid out to describe a career. But I love equations, so it made me really excited. It also made me realize how true that is. The two biggest components you have to deliver on to be a leader in your career, or even in your home/personal life, is results and influence. Do you provide good results and good work? How do you interact with people and "manage" them? Both are equally important....and lead you to more responsibility in life, as a manager, and as a person in general. Obviously, this is easy to correlate to life in the work place, but I really think it draws a great parallel to life as well. In your life, do you produce results that lead to better relationships, a great home life, a healthy lifestyle and a sense of accomplishment? And how do you interact with your family members and/or friends? Do they respect you? Do they listen and the things that need to get done are accomplished together and successfully? How do you share responsibilities with others in your home or even planning a trip or shower with other friends? If you can regularly provide great results and have a good rapport with people, that leads to more responsibility? Same thing in the work place!! Crazy, isn't it?

On of the last suggestions she left us with was to keep an updated resume and a list with your accomplishments/personal results you have accomplished over the years. So when you are networking with people, you have on the top of your mind a few things about each of them. She suggested organizing the list like this:

This is difference than a resume, as most often a resume just lists out things you have done/jobs you have had. This ensures that you remember what you both learned and accomplished.....not letting you forget those important mistakes you might have made that taught you how NOT to do things or the things that you learned that proved successful for you! By maintaining this regularly, you keep on the forefront of your mind all these things.

A few final thoughts:
- Network with people, get to know them for unselfish reasons and listen to what they have to say
- Find a mentor to ask questions along the way and that you trust
- Talk to peers, often times they are facing the same challenges you are
- Take opportunities when they present themselves, even if they are not what you "thought or planned" to happen- they could prove to be the best thing!
- Smile along the way :)

Hope that sparks some thinking and gives you at least one good thing to take away. I know I was VERY happy I attended this discussion because I walked away with some great things to think about, which will help me along the way in life and my career.

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