During times of uncertainty, it’s easy to think, “screw it.” The goals you had before — land a new job, get that promotion, secure a higher raise — seem distant, especially in the middle of an unforeseen pandemic. But the way I see it, you only have two options: wait around for things to get better and for something good to magically happen to you or do what you can to make good things happen for you? If you’re a high-achiever who prefers the second option, here are five power skills you should master to keep your career moving forward no matter what:
Aim for Excellence
The good news is that if you’re an ambitious professional, you’ve probably been aiming for this since day one of your first job. We’re taught to work hard, over-deliver, rinse, and repeat. But if you’re not careful, you can get in the trap of saying yes to everything and committing to too many things. This can result in you working hard on busy work and failing to exude excellence when it truly matters. Or worse, if you’re a perfectionist, you can get caught in the procrastination trap, which eats away at your time and creates a never-ending to-do list that can impact your performance.
All work is not created equal, and knowing the difference is key to consistently delivering excellent work. Patty Azzarello sums this up well in her book, Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life. She says, “You have to find a way to deal with all of the work, not do all of the work.” To create a track record of excellence, you can’t be afraid to set priorities and work strategically.
Advocate for Yourself
The biggest lie we were told growing up is “put your head down and do the work.” The idea is that if you just grind, hustle and do your best work, someone will eventually notice you and give you everything your heart desires without you having to ask for it. I believed that lie, and the only thing I got from following that advice was bread crumbs.
If you want to have a successful career no matter what, you need to learn how to speak up. No one will ever be more invested in your career growth than you, and it’s your duty to show others why you’re ready for it. Regardless, if you want to grow within your company or desire to land a new job elsewhere, don’t expect your track record to speak for you. Remind people of your track record. Let go of the idea that you’ll seem arrogant or obnoxious if you advocate for yourself. The sooner you learn to speak up for yourself gracefully and confidently, the better your career will be because of it.
Build Genuine Connections
I have a confession: early in my career, I thought I could do the whole “no new friends” thing. I was wrong. No new friends will lead you to no new opportunities. To succeed in your career, regardless of what life throws your way, you must be willing to build genuine connections in and out of season. Yes, that means when you need a new job and when you don’t. Doing excellent work and advocating for yourself are essential skills, but you also need allies in rooms you may not have had a chance to enter yet.
At work, it can be easy to build relationships with your colleagues on the same level as you but don’t limit yourself. Seek out relationships with colleagues on different teams and senior leaders and executives you may not interact with often. But don’t just stop there. Look around at people at other companies and in other industries that inspire you and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with them, too. When done the right way, these relationships can dramatically impact the trajectory of your career.
Adopt a “How can I help?” Mindset
It sounds simple, but most people don’t always think this way. But, when you’re so focused on yourself, you may miss moments to be present, memorable, and invaluable to others. Adopting a “How can I help?” mindset will also help you boost your confidence in work meetings, job interviews, and other situations that may typically feel nerve-racking or intimidating. If you’re constantly thinking about how you can help someone else, you’ll pay more attention to their challenges, and you’ll increase your chances of building a reputation as a problem solver.
Please note, you do not need to be a people-pleaser to achieve this; boundaries are critical. However, in moments when you desire to make a great impression, you can quiet a lot of noise in your head if you switch your focus. Practice better understanding the other person, listening, and considering how you can help them move forward, even if they happen to be ahead of you in their career.
Cultivate Your Growth Zone
If you master the other four skills, you’ll find that your career will reach new heights in due time. However, I’ve seen so many high-achievers hit ceilings in their careers because they stay in their comfort zones for more time than they should.
No matter how far along you get in your career, if you want to keep moving forward no matter the circumstances, you have to always be willing to be a student, be uncomfortable, and ask for help. If you find that you’re not learning or feeling uncomfortable in some area, then you’re probably not being as challenged as you could be in your career. On top of that, success leaves clues, so if you’re not willing to ask for help to get to the next level of your career, you’re likely making the journey much harder than necessary. Your growth zone is where the magic happens, and cultivating your growth zone is critical if you want to keep rising in your career.
Just like life, our careers are full of curveballs. But, if you’re willing to aim for excellence, advocate for yourself, build genuine connections, adopt a “How can I help?” mindset, and cultivate your growth zone, you’ll always be able to bounce back and move forward no matter what comes your way.