Building Better Careers: Five Steps to Success

By Gabrielle Garon

Building a career today is a multifaceted, dynamic goal. Gone are the days where you secured yourself an entry level position and expected to stay with that organization for the next 40 years. Today, we are building brands, investing in self-education, and building our future selves.

With so much to consider – education, experience, industry, location — the question becomes, where do I focus my energy? Here are five simple steps that will set off your success:

Step 1: Self-Educate
Above all else, you need to educate yourself. Self-education comes from seeking out knowledge and diverse experiences. There is so much free knowledge out there, you really have zero excuses. My personal favourites: iTunes U, TED, Twitter, and good ‘ol fashioned books.

Not sure where to start? Read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Diverse experiences are all around you; the essence is to get out of your comfort zone and shake things up. Do something that scares you. Try a new cuisine. Try a new activity or sport. Get out there and experience all the spice that life has to offer. Cliché, yes, but do it anyway.

Step 2: Whistle While You Work
First off, get a great attitude. Notice how I didn’t say, “have” a great attitude or “project” a great attitude. I’m implying that a positive attitude is available, you just have to choose it. Pause for a second and consider the truth in this — allow yourself to be influenced by the choice element.

Second, you need to work hard. In everything that you do, strive for excellence. Care about your customers and devote yourself to doing the best possible job for them. Always, always, ALWAYS do 1% more than what’s expected of you.

By coming into work each day with an unwavering positive attitude and the readiness to work extra hard, you will already have an edge. Do not (I repeat, do not) place conditions on these two pieces. Your attitude is who you are and your boss’ lousy attitude will not change it. Commit to yourself that you are unwilling to allow anyone (or anything) affect your commitment to having a great attitude and working hard.

Step 3: Brand Yourself
Deciding who you want to be is crucial. One way to start this conversation with yourself is to write down five adjectives that you think others would use to describe you and then five adjectives that you want them to use to describe you. It’s important to be honest and to tap into your emotional intelligence for the first list. Be honest: do others tend to roll their eyes when you speak up? Do they challenge all of your ideas? Take a step back and ask yourself why this is happening. Asking yourself, “what am I not doing right now that could change this situation?” might also give you a lead.

Next, you need to promote yourself. If you want your colleagues to think you’re enthusiastic and smart — get on the road and show ‘em. In fact, just get on the road.  I want you to do a roadshow. When you walk to the restroom make eye contact with those you pass and say hello. When you’re making lunch, ask a stranger in the lunchroom how their day is going. And remember — focus on them.

The number one rule in making people like you is to focus on their needs. Nobody wants to be interrupted over lunch with what’s going on with you. Lastly, don’t limit your interactions based on hierarchy. When the VP is making his/her coffee at the same time as you – chat them up. You could call this socializing, you could call this networking. Bottom line: the more people you meet, the more brand awareness you have. Perhaps we call it ‘Office Klout.’

The last piece in branding is to utilize social media. Once you’ve defined who you want to be and you are this person in real life – you need to support that brand online. Be strategic about the content that you put online and do your due diligence to ensure it is align with the message you are trying to project at work.

Step 4: Get Hurt
I know, I know – get hurt? What am I thinking? The next step is the toughest step of all, but by far the most important. Your precious, beautiful, pearl-like ego needs some hurt. Find someone you trust. Build a relationship. Then let this person give you a swift kick in the ass. More than once.

When I got my first leadership position, I got my first judo chop to my ego. I will never forget how much it hurt, but at the same time I will forever be indebted to my fearless, ass kicking coach.  I was 21, responsible to mentor and supervise a group of new employees and provide on the spot floor coaching. My manager at the time was also giving me extra responsibilities, above what my peers had and I thought I was doing a rock solid job.  I started noticing what I described at the time as jealousy towards me from my peer group and some resistance to my ideas. But – I was rocking it, so I ignored the cues.

Time went on and one day my manager called me into a boardroom. I remember going into it thinking, “He loves me! He thinks I am doing the best job, ever! Life is grand.” Uh oh – this firework of a clue did not resonate to me, at all. He sat me down and he gave me crap. Real crap, with real examples and it stung like heck.

For example, he told me how impatient I am, how I cut others off, don’t listen and so on — and how as a coach, how detrimental this is to my team. I remember leaving work that day, bruised, crying, furious at him. I went home and I cried my eyes out to my sister, I cursed him and swore he was completely wrong. My sister did something then that proved what a great mentor she is: she told me that I need to write a personal development plan. After my tears of anger dried, tears of embarrassment began, tears of loss pride. But my sister’s solution coaxed me on. If I returned with a plan, I was not weak – instead, I was fueled by a new challenge.

I want you to find a mentor, coach, leader — find someone that you respect (and admire) and seek out brutal truth feedback. Remember, step one is to self-educate and have diverse experiences. Being thrown off your horse and humbled is education; it is also a necessary experience. You have to want this. Since my first ego take down, I’ve been whipped into shape enough times to keep coming back for more. I can tell you that it hurts every time, but the feeling of standing yourself up again (with a plan!) is worth its weight in gold.

Step 5: Set Goals
The last step is a call to action. We won’t achieve a THING unless we decide we’re going to achieve it. Sit down, visualize your greatest wants, needs, desires – and write a plan for yourself.  Goals that we write down are 80 per cent more likely to be achieved. Fact.

If you’re not sure of what you want, consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and assess each level. Assess what is most important to you, what’s missing, and so on. An easy way to get your creativity flowing is to do a simple mind map.

Go through steps 1-5 and brainstorm – what triggers excitement, fear, and so on, and write you own personal development plan.

Writer, advocate, connector, collaborator – Gabrielle Garon is a HR people pro with one of the Pacific Northwest’s top web development firms, ImageX. By day she does what she does best: helps, coaches, and influences positive change. Gabrielle got into HR because she really liked helping others and soon found an overwhelming curiosity for behaviour, motivation, and how it all intersects with business. Connect with Gabrielle: gabriellegaron.wordpress.com or @GabrielleGaron

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