June 06, 2022
May 24, 2022
You may have noticed there’s been a bit of movement in the workforce in the past year. The headlines have been dominated by tales of the Great Resignation and statistics showing that many employees are looking for career changes and growth—both professional and personal.
The key to success? You have to take control of the wheel. This is a truth I’ve learned the hard way. Years ago, I transitioned from school teacher to corporate learning and development (L&D) leader. My journey, as well as experiences coaching thousands of others in their careers, has taught me a lot.
To help others drive their careers forward, I’ve distilled what I’ve learned into the following key lessons.
It was downright terrifying to leave teaching. But I wish I could go back and tell my old self not to worry so much. We actually grow the most when we’re out of our comfort zone.
Research backs this up. There’s this optimal place where learning happens, called the zone of proximal development (ZPD). When you’re in the ZPD, learning isn’t too easy or too hard. It’s a little uncomfortable, but achievable with support. Coaching assistance gives you the right boost to practice and achieve the goal.
We know there’s more than one way to do something but often wish we knew the “right” way.
It’s time to embrace “your” way. Not only are career paths changing, but the types of in-demand jobs are also changing too. Many of the skills we have today won’t be useful tomorrow. A recent Deloitte survey revealed that most of us will need to update our skills in the next three years.
If you think about your role not as a job title but as a “learner,” it may help you go in different directions—not necessarily in a straight path to the top.
I struggled with the fear of leaving teaching because it was what I had always imagined doing. Guess what? Bravery isn’t the absence of fear. It’s being afraid and doing it anyway.
It can help to realize there are two kinds of fear. If there’s a bear standing behind you, definitely Forget Everything And Run (FEAR). The other kind, False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR), is when we invent outcomes and situations that don’t exist or are based on conjecture.
If traditional careers are out, what does today’s career path look like? I like to consider three options.
There are many different routes. Even if you do a more traditional climb, the path you choose (like the rock-climbing wall) may not be like anyone else’s.
Good bosses can be hard to find. Gallup found that 50% of employees leave their jobs because of their manager. When you have a great manager, it can be a game-changer. That’s why it’s critical to try to keep them in your circle as co-workers or mentors.
How to develop these contacts? As an employee, be proactive. Ask for guidance, initiate career conversations, network, ask for a stretch assignment, participate in a rotation, or get involved in cross-functional initiatives. If you’re a manager, be intentional in mentoring others. Give feedback, advocate for employees, enable career conversations, and find/offer assignments and experiences.
Guiding your own career requires self-reflection on your peaks and valleys. Ask: “What am I most proud of? What have I enjoyed most? What qualities are important to me (e.g., independence, creativity, etc.)?” And conversely: “What are the worst experiences I’ve had?” Use this input to seek roles, projects and experiences that are aligned with your peaks, and use the valleys as red-flag warnings to avoid certain paths.
We can daydream about the future but making it a reality takes work. It’s helpful to map out where you want to drive your career, knowing your plan may change over time.
A framework to use as a guide is the GROW model:
Driving your career is an ongoing process. The average career is 50-plus years! So it’s important to embrace experiences as they come and learn from them. As JRR Tolkien wrote, “Not all who wander are lost.” It’s up to you where you decide to go. In our results-oriented culture, it’s a difficult shift but it can be the most rewarding.