Eleanor Roosevelt advised all of us to do one thing every day that scares us. As a naturally risk-averse person, daily thrill seeking isn’t necessarily in my cards, but the theory does have some merit for planning a solid career. Whether you’re searching for a new job or looking to spice up the one you already have, here are 5 ideas to get you outside your comfort zone:
1. Say YES: In Enchantment, Guy Kawasaki encourages everyone to become a yes person. Don’t hesitate, don’t weigh the pros and cons, don’t think about how much extra work you’re adding, just say yes. Getting involved in new projects, offering expertise, and putting yourself forward will make you more visible and help you grow your reputation. This is extremely important if you are looking to advance your career, and just as important if you want to maintain the status quo. With companies downsizing and restructuring, you can no longer afford to sail under the radar because when it comes time to eliminate roles, who are they more likely to cut: the highly visible integral team member they can’t live without or Whatshisname?
2. Network: Not just online or through informational interviews, but at actual live functions. Why is this on my list? Because it scares the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of me. We’re talking heart pounding, cold sweat kind of fear. Yes, I can speak in front of hundreds, but please don’t make me go into the audience and talk to people because they make me uncomfortable, and I would rather just stand at the edge of the room holding up the wall. Why do it? Because that face to face interaction will humanize you to the other person, and if you follow up properly, you’ll be able to turn those new relationships into tangible opportunities. Events seem to prime people and make them more open to offering collaborations, referrals/introductions, and sharing information. If you’re like me, and hate working the room, you’ll definitely want to check out my next blog post for tips.
3. Engage with your profession: Every profession has associations, newsletters, conferences, publications and committees. If you’ve become lackadaisical about your career and need to rediscover that connection, consider submitting something to a conference or writing something for one of the publications online or in print. The time, effort, and research you put into this project will help you reconnect with whatever drew you to your career field in the first place, and will help you increase your reputation and visibility amongst your professional peers.
4. Set real career targets: Believe it or not, employers want you to have goals. They call them annual plans, work plans… and they actually expect you to have some thoughts on what you want to accomplish over a set period. Most people use this to reinforce the status quo, and sprinkle in a few things they think their supervisor wants to hear. Forget that! It’s a waste of time for you and for your supervisor. Instead, ask yourself what you want to do with your career – move up, move laterally, move to a new organization or position… and then identify the gaps you have. If you need to develop skills or experience, build that into your plan with your employer. Suggest possible options for professional development, especially if your employer has tuition reimbursement or internal training programs. Remember to explain how this will benefit you in your current role. Employers expect you to want to grow and develop, and consider that a good sign, so don’t hide your ambition – channel it!
5. Ask for feedback: Nobody likes to hear that they’re doing something wrong or inefficiently. It’s much more enjoyable to hear how awesome we are and that the organization would crumble without us. When you think about it, there is more room for growth, engagement, and discovery in the negative than there is in the positive. When I was first starting out teaching in the US, I had a wicked semester with 2 classes who positively hated me. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t win them over and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Needless to say the student evaluations stung. A lot. What did I do? I examined all of the comments for trends to see if I could figure out what happened. I met with my supervisor after he’d read the evaluations to get feedback and suggestions. Then I hit the library for every book and article I could find on good teaching practices. The result? I never figured out what those students didn’t like, but I became engaged and energized by what I read and never had another experience like that semester again. Take the bad and turn it into something amazing.
How do you plan to go beyond your comfort zone? Share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.