It isn't often that a person going through a career transition identifies themselves as a 'leader'. They may feel ambitious or brave for making the decision to change career directions. They may feel proud for pursuing a career that is fulfilling and rewarding. But they often won't tell you they are a leader for making a transition into something different.
What if we recognized our decision to make a career change as us taking leadership of our lives?
Last week I attended an awards ceremony, where eighteen students and recent graduates, including myself, were recognized for our leadership roles in our community.
A number of speeches were given, but one in particular struck a chord with me. In practicing a lifetime of leadership, the presenter spoke of ten 'nevers'. Leaders must overcome obstacles and barriers throughout their lives. Some of these obstacles will be external, like opposition to a leader's point of view. Some will be internal, such as self doubt or lack of self assurance. These ten 'nevers' can act as a guiding light.
1. Never talk more than you listen.
This, at first, may seem counterintuitive for those of us striving to achieve personal leadership, especially at a time when it can feel we have to defend our decision to make changes in our lives. As mentioned before, there will be external forces that act as obstacles to our perseverance, like friends, family, or acquaintances who have their own opinions as to what we should be doing career wise, and how we should be doing it. However, if we only talk back in self-defense, constantly trying to validate the decisions we make along our career path, we will exhaust ourselves. Sometimes, listening is a great exercise in filtering feedback. It also opens us up to different views and perspectives.
Likewise, it is also important that we don't talk over our inner voice. Making changes can lead to all kinds of thoughts and feelings. Tuning into what these are, or listening to them, is better than talking over them or hushing them up. Exploring how our mind is processing the career change we are making, and how it is affecting us emotionally, is part of the transition process, and should not be ignored.
2. Never take yourself too seriously.
When I decided to make my own career change, I worried about myself a lot - would I fit the bill in my new profession? Would others see me in the way I wanted to be seen? Would I be able to demonstrate an air of confidence at all times? Sometimes we just need to take a 'chill pill' and relax a bit. Taking ourselves too seriously as we transition can lead to anxiety, insecurity, and we can be unnecessarily hard on ourselves for making mistakes along the way. It is often our quirks and vulnerabilities that are the most endearing things about us, so we shouldn't worry too much about them. People want to know the real us, so we can relax a little.
3. Never be afraid to sing or dance or take a stance.
For those of you who aren't afraid to get up on the dancefloor and bust a move, this one may not apply to you! For many of us though, it can be challenging at times to express ourselves through words and action. Especially if we feel others don't approve of our decisions, or if we are uncertain we will succeed. Taking leadership of our career transition means taking a stance on what we feel is right for us to make our career goals a reality. This may mean travelling for a year to gain a sense of the world around us, and what kinds of activities and people we like to engage with. It may mean volunteering for a cause we feel passionately about while working a part-time job to pay the bills. Taking a stance means speaking up about what we need to have a fulfilling life.
4. Never stop learning. To know, it's not enough to read. You have to go and see.
I think this statement resonates with a lot of people, no matter what stage of career development they are in. We are constantly learning, and being in a career transition is proof of that. More frequently, employers are asking job seekers what kind of experience they have, and how they got it. When deciding on a career, or when searching for the right one, this is the 'evidence' we can provide to employers to show we are the right candidate for the job. Remember, all experience is good experience. If finding out a company isn't the right fit after conducting an informational interview, nothing is lost. It's better to know what a company is all about by talking to people who work there than by reading a job posting. Same goes for exploring our interests to figure out what we want to do. We can volunteer, begin projects, socialize...all of these activities give us opportunities to 'go and see'.
5. Never mind.
Short and sweet, this 'never' challenges us to not worry so much about what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. If we don't get an interview, it's not the end of the world. If a network contact doesn't pan out, oh well. If someone makes a judgement on what we do or how we go about doing it, that's their problem. When making a career change and when job searching we face so many challenges. To worry about all of them can be exhausting and distracting. Take a deep breath and practice saying "never mind".
6. Never forget your roots.
When I decided to leave my PhD program and become a career counsellor, there was a part of me that wanted to forget the PhD ever happened. I initially felt like I had failed myself by not completing the program, and I was uncertain whether my transition to career counselling would be a successful one. I really just wanted to shut the door on my PhD experience and make a fresh start. I have realized however that my past experiences have brought me to my present, and the educational roots I established in my graduate program have served me well as I venture into a new direction. Keeping in mind how we have evolved and how we have come to where we presently stand is a big part of understanding our internal leadership compass.
7. Never forget the community.
Similar to never forgetting your roots, we must always remember who in our community has helped or assisted us along our career journey, and always be thankful. This can be a teacher who inspired us, a friend who listened, a worker who offered feedback, or anyone who has given us a hand along the way. These people come in and out of our lives, and their generosity is something we can both receive and then give to others. We must continue to recognize that our career pathways are not linear and solo, but intertwined with a variety of people who have helped to shape our paths. When we remember who and what has helped us along the way, we can simultaneously achieve our goals and give back to others at the same time.
8. Never stop giving.
As we venture into a new career journey we may find we are 'taking', and that's not a bad thing. We may take advice, jobs, network contacts, volunteer opportunities, all to help us learn more about our interests and gain valuable experience. What we may find difficult is to be 'giving'. We may feel we don't have a lot yet to give. We may find we are too busy to give. However, continuing to give is so rewarding, and is an important component of being a leader. I am reminded of a friend who was trying to get airplay on CBC radio after starting a career in music. He and many other artists were competing in a contest for votes - the more votes, the better chance of getting on the air. When he did not make it to the final round, he continued to nominate other artists who were still competing, reminding friends to keep voting. Although he was no longer competing, he was giving his time and support to others who were. It is so important for all of us to support one another through our success and challenges.
9. Never say never.
Of the 10 'nevers', this is my favorite one. It speaks for all of us who are in career transition right now, because we never said "never". No matter what steps we are taking to find and create careers that are fulfilling and meaningful to our lives, we are taking them. We are open to the possibility of something positive and meaningful happening in our lives, something that could not happen if we said "never". In never saying "never" we take leadership of our lives and the decisions we make to pursue our career goals. Continue to be open to possibilities.
10. Never forget to say thank you.
One of my friends who recently transitioned from academic to artist mailed me a lovely thank you card over the winter holidays. In the card she had designed, she thanked me for supporting her Kickstarter campaign to publish a children's novel. Her campaign had been successful, and she truly felt gratitude for everyone who had helped with this part of her career development. By saying thank you, we acknowledge every individual who has helped us in any kind of way, big and small. When we take leadership of our lives, we recognize that others want to see us succeed and be happy, Saying thank you is our way of sharing our gratitude for their support.