As we kick off a new decade, you may be considering “where am I” and “where do I want to be” in your career next year at this time. Some of you may be looking to “up your game” while others may be considering “reinventing” or even “retiring.” As a career coach, I hear from professionals (particularly lawyers) at all stages of their careers considering these next steps. Many of the issues raised are similar and often go to the core of who they are.
Shared below are some suggestions for positioning yourself for career success in the next decade. I hope they engage and energize you.
- Move From Self-Awareness to Self-Improvement: Being a leader starts with leading oneself. You cannot lead a team or organization without first leading yourself. Leading oneself starts with self-awareness coupled with self-management–two core EI competencies. This starts with being being present and paying attention to what you are you seeing, hearing, feeling, doing, saying and considering. It is followed by identifying, analyzing and being intentional about choosing behaviors that are most productive and will lead to the best outcomes even if it’s not behaviors that comes easily. See: https://hbr.org/2019/06/how-to-move-from-self-awareness-to-self-improvement.
- Avoid a Mid-Career Rut: Mid-career professionals are at high risk of getting trapped in a mid-career rut. See: https://hbr.org/2019/09/are-you-at-risk-of-a-mid-career-rut. Why? Because after succeeding and achieving important goals, they play it safe rather than continuing to take the risks that kept them engaged and got them where they are. They begin to feel stuck in the status quo. Having a Board of Advisors including mentors, sponsors, and a good career coach can help mid-career professionals continue to grow by helping them to reflect, assess, and understand what’s holding them back; to explore options; and to create a strategic plan for moving forward. All you have to do is ask! (see below).
- Bouncing Back–Repurpose and/or Recreate: Our careers are dynamic with “voluntary” and “involuntary” transitions. Surprisingly, the path forward can be similar. For success, both require a process of taking stock, letting go, hanging in a neutral zone, and new beginnings. This process is aptly discussed in the seminal book Transitions by William Bridges (which I highly recommend). A recent study by Crosina and Pratt examines the application of this process to the careers of those laid off by Lehman Brothers. See: https://hbr.org/2019/04/how-people-redirect-their-careers-after-getting-laid-off. What they found was that former employees redirected in two ways—they either “recreated” or “repurposed”. Which “road was taken” hinged primarily on what the individuals wanted to salvage from their experiences (e.g., relationships or culture), and had implications for the breadth of their opportunities going forward. Recreators found similar positions in comparable types of organizations and industries often securing jobs at other financial institutions. Repurposers, by contrast, left organizational careers to use their skills in new and different ways, often entrepreneurial. Regardless of path taken (both could be successful), the key to transitioning well was in the processing: taking stock of feelings (including grieving without letting it paralyze), values and what was gained from the last experience; holding on to what was gained and valued; letting go of other parts of the experience; and looking forward to new opportunities.
- Avoid Ruminating: If you, like many, find yourself mentally replaying situations in which you wish you’d performed differently (that is, ruminating) this article is worth a read. It sets forth suggestions for breaking out of the “overthinking rut” including identifying your common triggers and training yourself to resist sticky thoughts through distraction and physical activity and meditation. See: https://hbr.org/2019/02/how-to-stop-obsessing-over-your-mistakes.
- Resilience: A “hot topic” for some time, the article: What Resilience Means and Why It Matters (https://hbr.org/2015/01/what-resilience-means-and-why-it-matters), provides a valuable discussion including a description of three key characteristics that resilient people and organizations possess: “a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise.”
- Ask For Help: This is essential. It is virtually impossible to advance in your career without the support of others. Your performance, development, and career progression depend now more than ever on seeking the advice, referrals, and resources you need. Too many of us are reluctant to ask for help for fear of rejection, diminished status and/or loss of authority. In fact, research shows that most people are quite willing to lend a hand if asked the right way and even experience a natural high from doing so. In How to Get the Help You Need (https://hbr.org/2018/05/how-to-get-the-help-you-need), the author sets forth three cues to include in crafting a request for help that will foster a positive response: (i) be clear about what you need and the impact the help will have; (ii) assure the person you are on the same team and that team is important; (iii) make the person feel that they are uniquely placed to provide the assistance. So as you position yourself for the next decade, remember there is no better way to help yourself and to make someone else feel good about themselves than for you to ask them for help.
- Hot Career Streaks Can Happen At Any Stage: Despite the conventional view that a person’s best work happens in their 30s and 40s, a career hot streak can emerge at any time in your career. According to Dashun Wong, Founding Director of Center for Science of Science and Innovation, and a professor at the Kellogg School, “[e]ach new gray hair, literal or figurative, does not by itself make us obsolete. As long as you keep putting work out into the world, one project after another, your hot streak could be just around the corner. See: https://hbr.org/2018/10/research-career-hot-streaks-can-happen-at-any-age. So keep on trucking!
Let’s start a conversation. Please share your own thoughts and suggestions. Happy New Year!
*Lisa B. Horowitz, JD, MSOD, is an experienced attorney career coach, trainer and consultant. She founded the Attorney Talent Strategy Group following a robust career as a practicing attorney and senior talent development professional. She currently helps attorneys lead their best careers by coaching them on career planning strategies, navigating career transitions, leadership, management and business development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.atalentstrategy.com