You've likely spent a lot of time learning the skills to do well at your job. But how much time have you spent learning the skills to do well at your career?
There is a difference. Take one of my clients, John, for example. He's so sharp that in high school, he got a perfect score on his SATs, and could ace any test without studying. And yet, many years later, he's working at an average programming job, with not much room for advancement. He is doing great work, and is happy with his life, but hasn't "moved up" to the bigger, more innovative jobs that he would like.
This isn't for lack of talent, but for lack of career skills, which I am hard at work teaching him! I have found that there are six primary skills that a person must master in order to move their career powerfully forward:
1. Clearly articulate your vision so you know where you're going.
You would never get on a plane without knowing the destination. So why would you move through your career without knowing where you're going with it?
In order to channel your energy and talents to fuel your career, you need to have a clear vision of what you want to build and why you want to build it.
Sure, that vision will change over time, and of course it's the unexpected opportunities that sometimes make for the richest careers. But those opportunities typically come to those who are actively dreaming, scheming and striving, not those who are standing motionless.
Take a stab at it: craft a career vision that knocks your socks off.
2. Define your personal brand.
What sort of superhero are you, anyway?
You have certain characteristics that really make you shine: maybe you're creative, or judiciously fair, or keenly analytical, or generous. Which are yours? How often do you live up to the "best version" of yourself?
If you're like most people, the answer is probably that you have your moments of greatness, but are usually operating at around 50% of your full potential.
Imagine what daily life would be like if you remembered who you really are and you held yourself accountable for being that person. Those character traits will catapult you forward in your career. Try making a list of your superpowers and reading them each morning, and see what a difference it makes.
3. Communicate with curiosity.
We all know how important clear communication can be at work. And yet we still have misunderstandings, hurt feelings, bruised egos, and frustrating meetings. I have found that one of the single most important factors in building a great relationship with someone is curiosity: to understand why they think what they think, and what they are feeling and why.
It's said that "criticism is born of ignorance," and I firmly believe that if you understand everything about a person's situation, their actions will make complete sense. So the next time you find yourself in a heated situation, take a step back and get curious about the other person. What questions do you need to ask them to really understand their world?
4. Take care of yourself.
You can't be your best at work if your body and mind aren't tuned up and ready to go.
This tune-up includes exercise, eating foods that give you steady energy, sleeping enough, making time for doing the things that you love, and taking care of basic responsibilities (like paying bills and getting your annual physicals).
They're boring, sure, but neglect just one of them and you'll notice that you are not as clear-headed, energetic, or creative. What elements of your own self-maintenance do you need to pay more attention to?
5. Learn to understand your emotions and how to control them.
Let's face it: emotions are the main motivating factor in life.
You date someone because they make you happy and excited. You avoid your mother-in-law because she makes you angry. So in order to make good decisions at work, the key is not to get rid of emotions (good luck with that!) but rather to make sure that you are choosing based on the right ones.
For example, let's say that your boss asks you to give a very important presentation to the whole company. The idea of it makes your heart race with nervousness.
You could either make the decision to say "no" based on your fear, or "yes" based on your excitement for advancing your career. What important decision are you facing right now, and what is the "right" emotion to base the decision on?
6. Challenge your own beliefs, and don't be afraid to admit you were wrong!
You can only grow as big as you think you can. When I help people take the next steps in their careers, I often find that their biggest hurdles are the beliefs they have about themselves and the world around them, such as: