“But, I never really wanted to do this!” Annie exclaimed when I asked her how she ended up in her management position. A hard worker, she was identified early on by higher-ups as someone with potential. She never really had to ask for a promotion because people always talked her into applying for a position, or when new units sprang up, she was just put in charge.
Luck Only Gets You So Far
On one hand, Annie was very lucky. She was in a company that valued her abilities and actively promoted women. She never had to go through the rigors of competing for advancement. She didn’t have to figure out how to get support, make a move, put together a proposal or market herself to the top brass. Annie had “that something” — that natural leadership quality that people couldn’t put their finger on, but they knew it when they saw it, and they saw it in her. And over and over again as she rose through the ranks, she proved them right with a stellar performance that got her more, bigger and better leadership opportunities.
On the other hand, Annie didn’t feel so lucky. She wasn’t happy. Actually, she hated what she was doing. It became harder and harder for her to come to work every day. Eighteen years had gone by, and she had never felt so low. Health challenges were popping up from the unrelenting stress of a global leadership position. She had no life outside of work. She was lost and unsure what to do about it.
Don’t Get Lost In Your Career
What road do you take when you want to go to a new destination? You pull out a map and determine where you are and where you want to go. You pick the best route to get you there and you move in the right direction.
The same is true for finding a career destination that gives your career and your life meaning. As Annie found out, when you leave your career destination to chance, it can be easily hijacked. You can spend years going somewhere you never wanted to be. In short, Annie’s career had been created by accident, rather than deliberately by her. She had never known (or had forgotten) the power to create a career that’s right for her resides with her. You are ultimately responsible for your career happiness and well-being.
So how do you get off this detour and on the road to a more meaningful career? Here are the five steps to get you moving in the right direction:
1. Find your compass. Annie had done what everyone else wanted for so long that she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. Then she discovered a big truth: She was designed to work with numbers, rather than with people. No wonder she had been drained by all of those leadership positions!
2. Discover what motivates you. The more we talked about new possibilities the more excited Annie got. We determined managing large scale projects with lots of data and trend analysis was something that would motivate her to get up in the morning.
3. Determine the best environment to flourish. Some people love fast-paced environments where everyone is on the go. Some people want a slower pace to think, evaluate, design and create. Others want to track things and figure out problems. For some, being able to learn and grow is important. Some crave structure, stability and routine; others shine in entrepreneurial settings, like making connections, building relationships and going with the flow. Annie realized what she wanted most in her career was stability and routine and decided to prioritize her choices according to what would make a good fit.
4. Ask for directions. Every traveler knows when you’re going somewhere new, it’s easy to get distracted, diverted and lost, wasting your time and slowing your progress. Annie enlisted the help of a coach to guide her job search process as a way to keep focused on the new destination and to keep moving she could make progress.
5. Take action. Over the 18 years that Annie was in a job she didn’t like, her power and energy had been depleted. Once you start taking the steps in the direction you want to go, you get excited and the momentum in your search increases. Your power and energy will be stronger than ever.
Annie’s destination happened to be a new job in a less stressed role. Through coaching, she decided that self-care was very important to her. She found a job that energized her rather than drained her and allowed her to keep up with her exercise and to eat right. Within six months, she had started the family she’d always wanted and had found the road to greater meaning and satisfaction, not only in her work but in her life as well.