Our career – like our lives – is a canvas, a body of work if you will. It obviously starts blank and we make many brushstrokes over time. There will be times we create something beautiful. There will be others where we struggle to comprehend where we go next in this search for a masterpiece.
A career is typically quite long, and it leaves room for mistakes and the ability to reinvent oneself. There are many choices and there is risk. You will make decisions that will affect you and the lives of others. The most important things you can do in your career are to build relationships (in all directions – with mentors, peers and with people you can learn from and add value for), brand yourself, be reliable, be effective, be productive, and respond in the right way to whatever occurs. Sounds easy, right?
Your career will be defined by this handful of career-defining moments:
(1) How You Approach Your First Role. You’ve accepted a position – likely a stepping stone to where you envision yourself or perhaps merely a move to gain and earn experience (and money). Mark my words: The impression you leave in that role, the people you meet and the relationships you form will carry on for a long time. It’s likely (if you’re mid-career on), that you can look back at the symmetry amongst your roles – how one role would beget the next, and so on. People you meet and impress (or disappoint) will impact your future moves. Be early, be overly efficient, be supremely reliable, and be a sponge. I’ve had roles where I was completely overwhelmed, as if those around me were speaking in a different language! Take a lot of notes – record everything you can. Use these notes as reference and keep them handy. Latch on to folks who are succeeding from whom you can learn and assimilate best practices. Do everything you can to make a solid first impression and control everything you can – your learning, your relationships, your work ethic. Have no regrets in how you approached your first role.
(2) What To Do When You Have a Rough Patch: We’ll have our ups and downs in any facet of life. There will be times you have bad management, you encounter a slump, you hate your job, your personal life drags down your performance, or negative spotlights are on you. Remember this: Nothing good or bad will last long. Endurance is the greatest attribute to a flourishing career; you will be tasked with weathering storms. How you do this and that you do this will see you rewarded – with bluer skies, with possible promotions and better circumstances. Don’t lose your composure. Don’t let others see you bleed. Bad managers move on or out (or, sadly, sometimes up!) Things you hate about your job are bound to change (just like things you like about it). Everything ebbs and flows. If you are outwardly negative and emotional about and during your rough patch, this will become part of your brand and that brand will be toxic in nature. Seriously, just do your best. Tackle each appointment, each meeting, each day at a time as best you can and you’ll look back when this crucible completes and bask in the achievement of enduring it. Under no circumstances can you allow this or anything else to crush you – it can be career-threatening.
(3) How You Respond to Unfair Circumstances: Unfair circumstances can fall into the aforementioned rough patch category, but they are of unique ilk – sometimes, things happen to you or around you that are just flat out not fair. Your reaction and response will speak to your character and your reputation. Did someone who was not remotely qualified get the promotion you were promised? Be the first person to congratulate them and accept that it was not the role for you – focus on the next steps for yourself, and the next promotion. Is a manager targeting you because they are intimidated by you or dislike something about you? Focus all of your attention on ensuring you are doing everything you can to make their job easier. Clearly understand their expectations. Get to know them better – as best as you can. Were you targeted and/or fired for completely bogus reasons? Learn from the experience and take the caution and the self-preservation you learn forward into your next roles. Life isn’t fair – things in your career will leave you bewildered, but you’re best served by never reacting out of emotion to anything. It leaves you vulnerable in a place where you are viewed as replaceable.
(4) How You Parlay Your Stock Being High: What do you want to achieve in your career? Are you looking for a more strategic or prestigious role? More money? To do something rewarding? We pay dues and we work hard to move like chess pieces eventually into the desired role. There are times when our stock is high – we’re tops in the office, we’re highly regarded by management, or we have several suitors in the recruitment game. How you nagivate through these waters will go a long way to helping you make big moves – when your stock is high and perceived value maximized, you have the highest ability to move into more aligned roles and make more money. You have the highest ability to create and enhance relationships, gain additional responsibility, get more exposure. How you parlay your stock being high into something better (whether a new role or new circumstances) will help you surge ahead in the career race.
(5) How You Choose To Change Roles. Folks working an entire career with one company is now rare – for a variety of reasons (some economical, some generational, some based on a variety of factors between employers and employees). Even if you are in one organization, it’s likely you’ll change roles – most people have a change in title or company every 2-3 years. It may be something you want to change; it may be forced change. Either way, how you make moves is very important. If you are looking to make a move, and you’re leaving a role, always do it with dignity. Always give notice – even if you absolutely hate your job and feel like you owe them nothing. If one person who matters has a negative taste in their mouth from your departure, it could cost you. Furthermore, if you’re moved into a different role, handle the ambiguity or uncertainty with class – be thankful you have a role, and do everything you can to master it whether you’re committed to it in your mind for the long haul or not. Take your time in making decisions and always compare other potential paths to your current one – it helps if/when explaining your move to someone as to what your thoughtful thought process looked like (pro and con comparison lists are always good). Of course, you don’t want to share too much with people you work with and you don’t want to advertise your job-shopping process. Be strategic in who you seek counsel from, perhaps even sharing with your boss (if you have that type of relationship) what your decisions entail and enlist them in helping you make them. Bottom line: you’ll change roles in your career. Make sure you do everything you can to keep those you’re leaving and those you’re joining feeling good about you, or as good as they can. When in doubt, communicate. Communication is everything.
Whether you are just starting out in your career and taking those first steps or you’re reflecting on a career of moments that led you to where you are now, be responsible, add value, focus on relationships and leave it all on the field. Control your approach and your responses. And build a reputation of credibility and reliability. If you can do these things – during the highs and lows, amidst ambiguity and in spite of things you cannot control and unfair circumstances – you will create a masterpiece career that you’ll be proud of.
Carson V. Heady has written a book entitled “Birth of a Salesman” and sequels “The Salesman Against the World” and “A Salesman Forever” which take the unique approach of serving as sales/leadership books inside of novels showing proven sales principles designed to birth you into the top producer you were born to be. If you would like to strengthen your sales and leadership skills, go to https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073HN3SXQ
Heady posts for “Consult Carson” serving as the “Dear Abby” of sales and sales leadership. You may post any question that puzzles you regarding sales and sales leadership careers: interviewing, the sales process, advancing and achieving.
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