A couple of weeks ago a former colleague and friend asked me for career advice, which got me reflecting on my own path to where I am today, and gave me the motivation to share some of my thoughts on how I managed to get ahead in the game of corporate snakes and ladders.
I could tell you that there was a grand plan all along, but life is fortunately an unpredictable journey. My path has ventured along as a result of hard work, all the people that have influenced me in some way, coincidences, choices I have made (both good and bad), and a healthy dose of pure luck. However, in the never-ending wisdom of hindsight, I would like to share some elements that I believe have been important steps in my journey to success.
Broadcast your ambitions. I’ve never gotten something without asking for it, make sure your surroundings are aware of your ambitions. Sitting quietly in a corner, doing your job, and hoping for someone to notice you is rarely a good strategy. I’m not saying it will not produce results, but in terms of actually getting ahead of the pack, you need to be more outspoken and take charge of your career trajectory.
Find your purpose. Getting ahead in your career will require you to go above and beyond and deliver top quality every single day. In my opinion, that is not possible unless you find a true passion and purpose in what you do. In this regard, it is crucial to identify what gives you purpose on a personal level, rather than playing along to fit a narrative of doing something greater than yourself. If your personal purpose and driving force are to earn a shitload of money, don’t let anyone take that away from you.
Have a good level of self-insight without becoming self-critical. Lack of self-insight will place you in Dunning-Kruger territory, where you overestimate your own abilities. On the other hand, if self-insight converge into self-criticism, you may end up feeling a strong sense of the impostor syndrome. However, if you haven’t found yourself at either one of the extremes at least once, you’re not trying hard enough. Only by pushing yourself to the limits, you will be able to balance it out and identify a productive middle-ground.
The path to success is not a straight line.
If you want to punch above your weight class, be prepared to endure receiving a couple of punches yourself along the way. I have never accepted a job because I thought it was going to be easy, nor have I quit because I thought it was too hard. But I that does not means that I have not felt the urge to give up along the way. But I never did. For me, it has been a personal goal to always stay the course and deliver on my mission.
If you want to make a change, one of your most important traits is resilience. Luckily, no one is born resilient, and it is a trait that is trained over time. That does not necessarily mean that things will get easier, but that you will be able to handle greater challenges as you grow.
Learn from your mistakes. At some point, everyone will make mistakes along the way. Don’t beat yourself up over it, but spend your energy on learning from your mishaps instead. If you want to advance to a master’s level of learning, set out to learn from the mistakes of others as well. Talk to people with experience, ask them questions, and spend time to internalize those learnings in your context.
Find your balance. Being too single-minded is in my experience a limiting factor. Even though career has been an important part of me, there’s more to life than your career. Spend time with your loved ones and take time to nurture your interests outside of work.
Be patient. A friend reminded me that a career should be considered a marathon, not a sprinting exercise. Being patient should not be mistaken for being passive, it is concentrated strength.
Stay curious. My biggest fear is to become obsolete, and I have a relentless drive to constantly learn and develop my skills and knowledge. Learning is not limited to what you do in school but should have a life-long perspective.
Get involved and broaden your experience. I am thankful for the opportunities to be exposed to a wide array of companies and challenges across all levels of an organization as a graduate going into management consulting. For every new situation, I am exposed to, I believe that I widen my toolbox to tackle the next challenge.
Be nice to people. Getting ahead is not a solo run, and like the African proverb says; if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. I by the principle of having no regrets and stand by my decisions. However, there’s no rule without exceptions, and my biggest regrets are when I feel that I have treated others wrongfully. As a leader, let your employees know that you care for their well-being, and be genuinely interested in the people around you. Your reputation depends on a large extent on how you treat others, and by treating others well, you will also play a big part in bringing out the best in your surroundings.
Get noticed, and of course, building a personal brand along the way will significantly increase your chances for success.