I really hate the fact that everyone judges me by only what I do in my job. It’s like I don’t have any other skills than the ones that are needed for it. When I look at management, I see backgrounds and experiences that seem to be all over the place. Some have more credentials but most have less. Yet, my experience is obviously too limited to consider me for any other opportunities (or so others think). I’ve seen this happen inside my current company and even on the outside by recruiters and HR personnel. Recruiters will say “well, this is all you’ve ever done.” Well, I thought, doesn’t just about every manager that has taken such a role enter it with little to no experience? I thought, how is the risk any different with me? Isn’t management one of those positions that have very little requirements for entry (not like an engineer, doctor or lawyer)? Someone had to take a chance on them. Why not me?
Have you struggled to figure out why opportunities don’t come your way? You have lots of skills and you put in enormous efforts to keep them current and even upgrade them. Yet, all of this goes unnoticed. Opportunities are not as abundant in the workplace as society would have us believe and most of these aren’t handed out fairly. Despite that, we keep hope and devote energy to our dreams. Too often the dream starts with a job in our chosen profession. We slave away at it for years trying to prove to ourselves that we are really good at it. Once we are comfortable with our performance, we seek to impress others. But if our efforts go unnoticed for too long, we lose motivation and begin questioning our perception of our own abilities. It affects us. Some lose motivation. Yet, others are launched into their own personal reformation.
When I began, it was all about my dream. I would have done anything to achieve the greatness I sought. I just didn’t know how to go about achieving it. So, I did what I heard others say. That didn’t lead anywhere. Why? It wasn’t where I wanted to go.
Listen to your dream. I wanted to be successful. That was all the definition I had. I understood the capital I was willing to invest in it. I was going to learn all I could, work as long as it took and devote whatever energy was required. I kept moving forward and accomplishing things. Yet, it didn’t seem to produce the success I sought. Perhaps I wasn’t defining the right direction for what I pursued. Did I ever sit down to truly define what my big success looked like? No. I was simply using a trial and error method. I’d have a little success. Then, I would wait to see what happened. If nothing happened, I would work hard, achieve something and try it all over again. The success didn’t come. I couldn’t figure out what was happening.
I was driving through my career with a GPS on the dash but I didn’t have a destination plugged in. I based my happiness on how the journey felt. But at times I would pull over and realize I wasn’t happy where I was. But where should I be? I didn’t really define where I wanted to go or a path for getting there. This is what many of us do. No real plan. No real direction.
Then, one day I was driving down the road listening to the radio. You know, all that career noise out there that tells us how to really create the success we want in our lives. Most of these stories are told by people who are situated to benefit from our adoption of their advice. Let’s consider the MBA degree. So many of us chase this credential thinking it will launch a highly successful career. Why? Because academia tells us that it will put us on a meteoric rise to fame and fortune. Who benefits if we engage on this advice? Immediately, they do. The risk is all yours. You risk not only money but the most valuable resource you have, your time, with no guarantee of a return.
My point is that we listen to the noise that surrounds us to get an idea of what success is and how to obtain it. We only end up unknowingly contributing to someone else’s. Turn off the noise. Listen to your own dreams and align your efforts with the things you really want. How? Here’s a cool process from Dr. Judith Orloff.
Four Steps To Remember Your Dreams
- Keep a journal and pen by your bed.
- Write a question on a piece of paper before you go to sleep. Formalize your request. Place it on a table beside your bed or under your pillow.
- In the morning do not wake up too fast. Stay under the covers for at least a few minutes remembering your dream. Luxuriate in a peaceful feeling between sleep and waking, what scientists call the hypnagogic state. Those initial moments provide a doorway.
- Open your eyes. Write down your dream immediately; otherwise it will evaporate. You may recall a face, object, color, or scenario, feel an emotion. It doesn’t matter if it makes perfect sense-or if you retrieve a single image or many. Record everything you remember.
When you’re finished, refocus on the question you asked the previous night. See how your dream applies. One, two, or more impressions about the who/what/where of your solution may have surfaced. Get in the habit of recording your dreams regularly. If your answer doesn’t come the first night, try again. More details will emerge, rounding out the picture. Then look to your daily life for evidence of what your dream tells you.
Sharing your dream. Working in a corporate environment is really strange. It’s often a building with a lot of people working on the same goal but secretly working on their own goals. Career ambitions fit in the same category as salary. It’s passé to talk about them. Perhaps organizations are afraid that too many employees will develop desires for the corner office, for which most will certainly be disappointed and eventually grow frustrated. There’s only room for a few at the top so it seems crazy to allow so many people to create ideas that will never come to fruition. So maybe it is a good practice that we don’t allow people to discuss such things at work, as it might help avoid the creation of unhealthy expectations. Here’s the thing, we create expectations anyhow.
Theodore Hesburgh said “The very essence of leadership is [that] you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Most of us are afraid to share our vision, so we don’t blow a horn at all. After years of sitting in a job that we’ve worked hard at and earned an advanced degree that no one seemed to notice, we still hold on to some weird, unfounded sense of hope. We sit and wait for an opportunity. In other words, we are part of someone else’s vision.
If you don’t share your dream with others, your success becomes a victim of circumstances that you don’t control. Robert Fritz put it eloquently when he said “If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.” You comprise your dream with what others are willing to give you. Are you in company that hasn’t given you an opportunity in years? Have they discussed anything with you? It’s time to abandon such a passive approach and it all starts with sharing your dream for who you want to be. Sure, disappointments will come. You won’t be successful in every company. No one is. But at least you will develop a strategy for finding the right environment for achieving your dreams. Telling others about your dream helps you define what is possible or reasonable. Letting others know what you want to achieve gives them the vision too. Those who can help you will. If no one helps you, you may be in the wrong place. Then, you’re faced with a compromise: do I stay or do I go?” But that’s getting ahead of things. The first thing is to engage in painting your dream throughout the organization and assessing it’s response.
Draw correlations to value. Just like you, most young, energetic professionals looking to make a name for themselves heavily invest in new skills to create value. I’ve been in many executive training courses, only to discover that the highest echelon doesn’t attend such training. After one class, I asked the trainer why they constantly taught us about issues that executives face, when he could just discuss this with class members. He responded that they didn’t attend these classes. For many reasons, this doesn’t surprise and it does provide some logic as to why they don’t understand the value that certain skill sets offer to the company. Let’s consider the MBA degree for a moment. I look at it this way. If your job didn’t need the MBA before, it probably doesn’t need it now. Just possessing the MBA, or any advanced degree, doesn’t provide the company value, so you won’t be rewarded for it. I know too many professionals that have a MBA in a job that doesn’t need one. They only thing they have to show for their accomplishment was a $90,000 bill from the university.
Ideally, management needs skills that can make them money. This can be growing revenue and profit or reducing cost of operations. Can you articulate your new skills in light of their monetary benefits? As with the MBA, if your management doesn’t have an advanced degree, they don’t know what you can do now or how it can help the company. You have to help them understand the value. They just see you as the same person who’s been in the same job for some time. Once they say that, they don’t really look at you again, unless you give them a reason to.
How do you correlate your skills to value? If your job doesn’t offer opportunities to demonstrate your new abilities, you have to create them. Your skills must be demonstrated. They must be put on display for others to see. It’s the same situation as in professional sports. You have to build your skills and then step out on the court or field and show them what you can do. You must impress those who feel they are already at that level. You can’t just talk about it. They want tangible proof if they are to believe you possess extraordinary talents and skills. If you step out on the court and show them you can play once, they’ll say you have potential. If you continue to demonstrate your skills over and over, then you’ll belong at the next level. Remember, just possessing new skills isn’t enough. Potential value doesn’t help anyone. Put your new skills into action and create value.
Take some time to see where you can create value. Solving company problems is always a good place to start. Talk with managers to determine what issues you can work on. Companies have issues so there will be things for you to do. Other ways to show your skills include learning, influencing, motivating, negotiating, trust building, team building, decision-making and developing others. Just make sure that whatever you choose to engage in, your path stays aligned with your dreams.
Market and sell your skills. I know what you might be thinking here. I’ve demonstrated my abilities. Isn’t that enough? The answer is definitely NO. It depends on your organization’s leadership. As you move it, the challenges grow harder and harder. I have a friend that plays professional basketball. He’s 6’8” and a great shooter. He’s played in international leagues for years and was recently invited to tryout with the LA Lakers. You know he’s good now, right? Anyhow, they offered him a spot with pay at the league minimum, which was lower than what he was earning already. He didn’t take the offer. Why? He realized that even though he has great talent, it wasn’t valued to the level he felt it should be. Sound familiar? This is what you’ll find in many companies. But my friend has pursued his dreams differently. He stepped up and tried out for the team. He took his talents and spread them all out to be judged. He understands that to reach his dream, he has to continuously put his skills on display in hopes of finding someone who values his talents as much as he does. Have you done that yet? Or do you sit back and rely on your credentials to communicate your value. Consider the previous MBA example. So many professionals earn the degree thinking that this is all they need to achieve their dreams of great success. My friend is already one of the best in basketball but he still has to prove himself every time he steps on the court.
High performing professionals realize that the interview is never over.
Interviews are never over. Sure, you get passed the first round to gain employment in the company but that only gets you through the door. To gain access to new doors of opportunity, you have to continue to market and sell your abilities. Remember, the initial interview is only looking for a specific set of skills, not every skill you have. Companies are only trying to meet an immediate need. There always trying to meet an immediate need. How can you help them? You can’t just try to do your best in your job. Otherwise, you will stay there. You have to push yourself beyond what they are just asking you to do. You don’t think they asked my friend to just score 18 points per game? No. They want him to do whatever it takes to help the team win. Sometimes that means he has to take the lead and sometimes he focuses on helping others be successful, no matter which team he is on. Are you ready to do that?
Here are a few steps you can take to develop a continual focus on marketing and selling yourself. Practice them and they’ll become a habit.
- Develop the attitude that you always have to be improving your game. Never settle for average performance.
- Look at each situation as an opportunity to demonstrate any of your abilities, not just the ones your job calls for on a daily basis.
- Always perform at your best, no matter how simple the task. You are judged on everything you do. Remember, executives worry about how they dress, speak, etc. Everything matters.
- Seek new audiences. Don’t just focus on supporting your team. Engage other managers in other departments to seek problems to solve.
Life is waiting. What are you waiting for? Living your dream all starts with knowing what it is. Without a clear definition of what you want to achieve, your career will simply be a meandering across time collecting experiences and credentials that don’t really get you where you want to go. Push the limits of your environment to see if it aligns with your dream. Remember, your dream won’t be realized in every environment you’re in. You have to find the right place with the right people who value what you offer. If you’re not there, keep on chasing your dream. In the words of one of my favorite speakers, Les Brown, “If you take responsibility for yourself, you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams.” Don’t allow the world to define who you are. Let your dreams define you and your actions the proof.