I recently spoke with a group of colleagues about how to effectively manage your career. I jumped at the chance to dispel some common myths and help others learn from my own struggles. Everybody is willing to share their successes. What we all really need is to learn how others worked through the challenges during their own professional journeys.
Learning from others’ misfortunes and understanding you’re not the first to be overlooked for an opportunity can be valuable and empowering. Many of us assume that leaders we admire had an easy time getting to where they are now. The truth is everybody has experienced disappointment in their careers at some point. Understanding this can provide assurance and inspiration as we navigate through challenging moments.
In that spirit, here are six things I’ve learned about managing my career.
Make sure if you stay in a dead-end job, it’s for a good reason.
Don’t stay because you’re afraid to leave. I intentionally stayed with one company in the same position for 14 years. I had young children and the flexibility I earned was more important than leaving for a new, more high-powered opportunity. When I was ready to move on, my perceived stagnancy made it harder for me to find my next position.
Find your own mentor – or even two.
Finding the right mentor is like dating. You need to know what you want to get out of the relationship and what characteristics would make someone a good fit for you. Nobody knows that better than you. If your company doesn’t have a formalized mentorship program – or even if they do – be bold and find someone who can provide guidance, motivation, role modeling and career advice. Also, understand the roles of mentor and mentee. You’re the one seeking guidance, which means you need to manage the relationship and reach out for support rather than waiting for your mentor to schedule time with you.
Be true to yourself.
Know what’s most important to you, not just professionally but personally as well. Sometimes your personal priorities may conflict with your professional ones. I chose not to move for my career because I wanted my children to grow up near family. Consequently, I was limited with career progression opportunities. It took me a while to figure it out, but it became important for me to accept the decision I made for my family.
Don’t be afraid to fail.
Taking calculated risks and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is how we grow, learn and succeed. I think sometimes people shy away from new opportunities because they’re afraid of failure. JK Rowlings summed it up best: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
Treat perception like reality.
Years ago, a boss told me that I wasn’t a team player. This crushed my spirit. I was part of a multi-state team, and I shared every pitch, press release and best practice with my colleagues. How could I not be a team player? What I realized was that my boss’ perception – whether right or wrong – was my reality and ultimately my responsibility to change his perception.
Finally, there’s no single path to success.
Very few people travel through their professional career without at least a few dips in the road. Comparing your own journey to someone else’s only sets you up for unnecessary disappointment. I took a significant pay cut and title cut (vice president to manager) in order to transition into corporate PR. Promotion opportunities took longer than I expected. I learned that, unlike in agency PR where we’re revenue generators, in corporate PR we’re overhead and we need to prove our value in a different kind of way.
Michelle Gilbert is vice president of public relations for Comcast Cable’s three-state Heartland Region. She is also vice president of PRSA Detroit.