These days, we’re told that the path from education to dream job isn’t a straight line, and mine has been no different. But, rather than perceiving the twists and turns that come as scary or intimidating, I’ve found it better to embrace the freedom and opportunities they offer. And, while it’s easy to feel alone when facing major decisions or adversity, these experiences are actually shared by most people – the difference is how you deal with them and whether you see yourself as master of your own career. I’d like to take you through some of the learnings I’ve made as I connected my career dots.
U-turns are allowed, even encouraged
Taking a U-turn doesn’t mean you made a mistake or wasted your time.
Like many others completing graduate school, I bet on what I thought would be a stimulating and in-demand career path. For me, that was corporate finance. Two years in, I realized I’d taken the wrong path. It dawned on me that I was insane to think the best part of my day was eating a frozen dinner in bed at 9 pm!
After this uncomfortable realization, I took a hard look at my job and identified the elements I enjoyed, like business strategy, and looked for roles that would help me build on that experience while leaving behind some of the less appealing aspects. In other words, I pulled a U-turn – and it was the best decision I could have made. Looking back, I learned two important lessons when I decided to U-turn:
Taking a U-turn doesn’t mean you made a mistake or wasted your time. Despite our best efforts, we make career decisions based on limited information. Consequently, we’ll inevitably pick some roles that don’t pan out as expected. But you can’t be held hostage by the sunk costs of education or the time invested in a role. Instead, learn what you can then move on.
If you’re smart and competent, you can adequately do any job. But, to be truly successful, you need to find roles that align with your passions and take advantage of your core strengths. A strategic U-turn can make all the difference between being ‘adequate’ and ‘excellent’.
Culture counts… a lot
Your fit with a company’s culture is determinative of your success. While some jobs may look amazing on paper, they can be a tough slog if you’re not aligned with the company’s values and ways of working.
I experienced this first hand when I took a role at a major retailer. It was a great brand and I had a strategic position – the perfect fit, I thought – but I was never able to read the culture, even after two years. I was permanently on shaky ground. When I moved to eBay, I initially took the role as a short-term learning opportunity thinking a career in technology wouldn’t be for me. But, I immediately saw the impact that strong personal/corporate alignment could make. Even though I wasn’t a techie, I excelled in eBay’s entrepreneurial, merit-based culture. I understood how decisions were made and what was required of me to be successful. Ultimately, it meant I could focus on my work rather than devoting time and effort into deciphering and navigating office politics.
Find your place and your people. It will make all the difference to your success.
Don’t be a Lead Foot
I’ve learned from experience – mine and other’s – that you can’t spend your whole career giving 120 per cent. If you don’t want to burn out or be left incapable of dealing with major life events, you have to take conscious control of your career and decide when to hit the gas versus when to ease off.
And, it’s not enough to make these decisions on your own; you need to involve your partner or immediate family. For example, two parents can’t both have their feet on the gas without negotiating how home life will be managed. My foot came off the pedal when I had two children. I went to work and continued to do my job well, but I wasn’t pushing as hard as I had before. After my last maternity leave, I was promoted to Managing Director of eBay Canada; it was time (and I was ready) to go back up to full speed.
Don’t fall for the leadership myth
People rise to leadership positions because they’re effective at getting things done. The irony is that the skills that get you the title are not the ones you’ll need to do the job. It doesn’t suffice to know the right answer or be a great executor; as a leader your role is to empower others and bring out the best in them. To do this, you will likely have to pick up some new skills.
For me, this means working on building a portfolio of leadership styles by complementing the more directive, managerial style that was so effective earlier in my career with more inclusive and collaborative approaches.
In doing this, I’ve quickly learned that it’s okay to ask for help. More so, I’ve learned that
To be truly successful, you need to find roles that align with your passions and take advantage of your core strengths.
the leaders I admire also ask for help. No one finds this easy; everyone needs to actively work on becoming the kind of leaders we want to be.
Now, mid-way through my career, I know that it will always be a work-in-progress. And, I’m sure that I have many more lessons to learn. But my one guiding principle is this: In order to get the most out of your career, you have to be strategic.
If you find yourself in a place or line of work where you aren’t thriving, reassess and take the reins. Figure out where you want to go and make a move. Invest in yourself. If you don’t manage your career, no one else will.
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