Want to get ahead at work? Then start driving!
What does it mean to be a career driver?
I can tell you what it doesn’t mean: passively waiting for things to happen. And it certainly doesn’t mean reporting to a manager you don’t respect and aren’t learning from, dredging through work that doesn’t engage you, or tolerating a toxic culture for extended periods of time. It also doesn’t mean being blatantly careerist at others’ expense or at the exclusion of everything else.
Clients often come to me because they no longer enjoy what they’re doing or in very extreme cases, loathe it. They finally arrive at an inflection point that forces them to break their apathy. After talking, we usually find that what they’ve been doing professionally doesn’t align with their values, or in some cases contradicts them entirely. They’ve been able to stick with it for a while because they temporarily reconciled it, needed the job security, felt they didn’t have a choice, or because fear of the unknown outweighed the discomfort they felt on a daily basis. 🙁
During my time as a career and resume advisor I’ve helped hundreds of professionals with varying levels of experience. Through all our collaborations a very strong theme emerged: in life, there are career passengers and career drivers.
Unlike their passive passenger counterparts, career drivers have a strong sense of direction and a plan. They feel empowered, satisfied, challenged and happy. These workplace winners are gracious, demonstrate a growth mindset and get ahead without being overtly ‘careerist.’ They embrace challenges and are energized by what they do. Sound compelling? Read on.
What’s a growth mindset again?
When we encounter career drivers we frequently make the assumption that they’re exceptionally smart and greatly talented. Not so. Now don’t get me wrong, they are bright and they have do have some raw talent (we all do), but those alone don’t account for their success. Career drivers excel because they have growth mindsets and are gritty enough to go after like they really mean it. They’re not afraid of trying new things (and failing) because they recognize such opportunities enable them to grow. They’re great at turning ‘no’s’ into ‘not yet’s.’ This approach translates to their personal lives as well. The bottom line is that continuous growth and self-improvement are top priorities for career drivers. For more on growth mindset, check out Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk (and take comfort in the fact there’s still hope for the rest of us!).
In her brilliant book Grit, Angela Duckworth presents the argument that as a nation we’re predisposed to admire talent and often neglect to recognize the significant investment of self – along with hundreds of hours of purposeful practice – that are required to achieve a high-level goal. This absolutely resonates with me. The career drivers I know – just like their role models who are usually parents by the way – aren’t afraid of practice (or hard work). They continuously look for and find ways to stay engaged because what they’re doing is aligned with their purpose. Career drivers also have ‘stick-with-it-ness:’ the resolve to persevere (à la grit icon Winston Churchill).
Knowing when to cut your losses isn’t giving up, it’s being smart
If they’ve given something the college try and things still aren’t working out then career drivers change direction. Note: there’s a big difference between giving up and acknowledging when something doesn’t serve you. Career drivers absolutely recognize the difference and map out an alternative route. Next!
We can’t be ‘on’ all the time. Career drivers are adroit at switching gears and cruising at different speeds. When another part of their life needs to take priority, they readily slip into a lower gear. These drivers still know where they’re headed and are at peace with the idea that it’ll take a little longer to get there.
Know your purpose?
Humor me; this is a real thing. Many of us aren’t yet able to articulate our life purpose and there’s a reason for that. It demands a lot of work. It requires asking some tough (life-changing) questions as well as dedicating time and energy to its pursuit. Although it would be nice, purpose never presents itself fully formed during a ‘aha!’ moment. It’s informed over time and through experience.
And while no short cuts exist here – because of their growth mindset and commitment to self-improvement – career drivers are generally on an accelerated trajectory. Even if not yet able to articulate it specifically, they’re pretty close to understanding their purpose. They also know when to call in the experts for help and collaborate extensively with executive leadership coaches and other professionals.
There is no ‘I’ in team
Career drivers demonstrate high EQ, self-awareness and strong empathy for others. This is one of the things that make them so brilliant – they get ahead without being assholes. They’re accomplished and respected. They inspire others around them. They collaborate and care about their people as much as the end result (if not more so).
Career drivers surround themselves with strong role models. They’ve benefited from at least one mentor/mentee relationship and these have had a profound impact not just on their career but also across their lives. Career drivers usually serve as mentors to others as well.
The career drivers I know have a strong sense of giving back. They’re socially responsible, consistent in their volunteerism, and invest heavily in community.
Is your story a page-turner?
Another thing I’ve noticed about career drivers is how confidently they own their respective narratives. I can’t emphasize enough how big a difference this makes. And not just in an interview context but across the board. Career drivers tell their stories succinctly and authentically with all the good and bad they might entail (they just position the bad as growth points).
I spoke with a friend and client yesterday who I’ve worked with several times over the years. She always likes to be prepared even though she’s not driving for a specific change right now. I encourage all my clients to embrace this idea. When opportunity knocks, it’s so much better to have all the tools and narrative ready to go at a moment’s notice than to have to scramble at the last minute. Career drivers have strong brands and their toolkit is honed and ready (think resume, Linkedin profile and elevator pitch).
Career drivers create opportunities. They know their value and have a strong understanding of their respective markets because they talk to recruiters. If someone approaches them with a potential opportunity, then they’re willing to hear them out.
What can you do for others?
Networking comes naturally to some and less so to others. Regardless, career drivers invest the time to cultivate strong and deep networks. By far the most adroit networkers I’ve seen build authentic relationships on the basis of wanting to help others. Some refer to this is as ‘palms up networking’ due to the nature of giving (as opposed to the more grabby ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ downward-facing palm).
Sign me up!
Most of us could probably learn a thing or two from these career champions. Here are some tips to help us become more assertive and move over to the driver’s seat ourselves: yes, I want to drive my career like a boss
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