By Perry Yeatman
One of the wonderful things about the concept of “growth” is that it can mean different things. For example, it can refer to personal development and going deeper or it can also mean expansion and getting bigger. The beauty is that both of these meanings are important for career development. Here are five tips to help you do both.
1 | Try something new or different.
You won’t achieve personal growth by doing the same things over and over. Growth comes when you get out of your comfort zone and take a risk. It could be big or small, but if it doesn’t make you a little nervous, it isn’t going to change you. So, challenge yourself – ideally every week – to do at least one thing that requires you to flex new muscles. It could be achieving the same goal but in a different way or raising your hand to take on something totally new. Just put yourself out there. I know it’s been said before, because it’s true, even if you fail you’ll have learned a lot and be better off for it. But that doesn’t mean you should just go in blindly. Of course, you want to consider the implications of failure. My rule of thumb on risk evaluation is simple, I ask myself two just questions: What’s the best that could happen if I succeed? What’s the worst that could happen if I fail? As long as I am clear that I could live with the latter, and assuming the former is a strong positive, I will just go for it, even if I have no idea how I will get it done when I first say yes. Let me repeat that because it’s one of the largest downfalls for women: I say yes even if I don’t have all of the skills, knowledge and experience that would be ideal for the task at hand. As long as I can see a way I might be able to succeed and I can live with the worst if I fail, I go for it. Now, clearly this doesn’t apply equally to professions like law and medicine, where very specific knowledge and experience is required before going into court or the operating room, but even in these tightly prescribed occupations, I’d venture to say that the best in the field do a similar mental calculation before taking on a new case or patient. So, the message is clear: don’t rest on your laurels. Keep challenging yourself every day, every year. As a friend of mine says, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” It may be scary, but given that choice, wouldn’t you rather be growing?
2 | Find a way to standout.
The good news is that if you take risks like those indicated above, you will likely already be on your way to standing out and therefore expanding your career horizons. Why does getting noticed matter? If nobody at higher levels knows who you are, then you won’t get the best mentors, sponsors or opportunities. You need to find ways to differentiate yourself by doing things others can’t or won’t and by succeeding where others have failed. Once you have succeeded, be sure you are recognized for doing so. It’s really that simple. One of the best examples from my career was moving to Singapore. It was about 1990, I was about 25 years old and I was a 5’9” redheaded American female. That alone quite literally ensured that I stood out. More than that, the company had an immediate need in Singapore; even though I had been promised Europe, the fact that I was willing to give up my life in the US and move to Asia in a matter of weeks – a place I’d never been – made me someone the company took notice of. From that move on, I never looked back. Bigger jobs, higher salaries and more interesting work just kept coming my way for the next 25 years.
3 | Deliver on difficult assignments.
Once you land one of these high risk high reward opportunities, you need to deliver and you need to ensure that people know you’ve delivered. So, be clear on what your organization defines as “success.” Then, set yourself up to succeed by getting the right team and the other resources you need. Once you’ve got that, you have to go all in. Forget having a plan B. As long as you’ve got the right resources, a clear but flexible plan and unyielding determination, you can accomplish just about anything.
4 | Negotiate for what you want.
Once you have delivered for your organization, you have earned the right to begin to ask for what you want. Hone your negotiation skills (there is no way to succeed in work or in life without becoming a good negotiator, so don’t shy away from this, embrace it!) and then build your case for why what you want is right for you and why it’s good for your employer as well. You have to do your homework. You have to be clear. You have to set priorities and boundaries (what is a must have vs. what is negotiable). Finally, you have to be willing to walk away. In my experience, and that of other C-Suite executives, if done right, you can negotiate some pretty amazing things – from working from home to doubling your pay.
5 | Ignore the unfair scrutiny and the distractions.
While I wish it were otherwise, those of us who have been there know that all the way up the ladder people are going to look at you differently, treat you differently, say or do inappropriate things, etc. They’re not necessarily bad people. More often, they just don’t recognize the biases they carry. So, be ready for others to criticize your look or style; to question your parenting decisions; to assume things about you that aren’t accurate. It’s going to happen. To paraphrase one of my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quotes: it’s not what happens to you that defines you, it’s how you react it. So, be equally ready to brush off that which truly doesn’t matter and to deal intelligently with those things that simply can’t or shouldn’t be ignored. Trust that you’ll know the difference when it happens.
Perry Yeatman is a trusted counterpart for many leading corporations and organizations today through her company, Perry Yeatman Global Partners. Yeatman is the proud mother of a 12-year-old daughter and a Girl Scout troop leader and the founder of Your Career, Your Terms. This is a first-of-its-kind free resource for women who are looking to thrive at every stage of their careers. She is also a frequent contributor to Fortune and Huffington Post.