This article is an extract from my new book – Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career, which originally appeared on the LBD Group website.
Victoria Beckham once said she wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic, a laundry detergent that is a household name in the UK. When she entered the music scene in the early 1990s as part of the Spice Girls many people (me included) wrongly assumed that Posh Spice and the group would be a ‘one-hit wonder.’ Fast forward 25 years, and she’s a successful and respected fashion designer.
She ignored her critics, aimed high — and got there.
Much of what happens in life is based on what we tell ourselves and how we interpret both internal and external commentary.
Our internal commentary is frequently shaped by what other people say or think about us. And yet those opinions are just that — opinions. We need not necessarily accept them as facts.
What do you tell yourself about your career and your ability to leap? Do you think it’s impossible or more than possible? Are your thoughts helping or hindering you?
To make a career leap, you need to ditch the expectations of others and any limiting old beliefs, put yourself securely in the driver’s seat and willingly set off into an uncertain future.
Get in the driver’s seat
You don’t want to be a passenger in a future hurtling past you, nor do you want to be a backseat driver with no control or to be stuck on cruise control or autopilot. You want to be the one who makes decisions about which direction to travel in, how fast to go, any detours to take and the support crew you need to get you there. That’s the only way you’ll ever end up at your chosen destination.
Once in the driver’s seat you move from being in a dangerous place in your career, where you are threatened with market obsolescence, towards a future in which you have a competitive advantage
Let’s take a look at what it takes to get into the driver’s seat.
Your mindset plays an enormous role in determining the success of your career. It is an important part of who you are, shaping your attitude, thought processes, decisions and behaviour.
As unique individuals, our mindset is shaped by our personal experiences. We interpret the world we live in and what is happening based on our beliefs, perceptions and assumptions. It is this interpretation that drives our internal state, and ultimately our emotions, thoughts and behaviour.
The danger is that our mindset can limit us, and we may not be consciously aware of this.
It can set up roadblocks and obstacles that make it much harder to achieve our career objectives.
A quick way to check your mindset is to ask yourself the following question:
‘Do I believe (1) that I know everything I need to know already or (2) that there is still much to learn?’
How you answer this question will help you determine if you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
These terms were coined by Stanford academic Carol Dweck. She found that people with a fixed mindset see intelligence as static, ‘a fixed trait’. As a result, they always like to appear smart, as though they have all the answers. They believe that success is based on talent alone, not work. This means they will avoid challenges and give up more easily. They also ignore feedback, which they see as criticism, and they feel threatened by the success of others.
This mindset will put constraints on your career, because over time you will stop learning and stop taking risks, both of which are prerequisites for growth and development. A fixed mindset stalls your career progress.
In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed through hard work and effort. Consequently, they are eager to embrace learning, take on new challenges and persist in the face of setbacks. They love learning and usually display higher resilience. They are also more willing to learn from others and receive feedback.
A person with a growth mindset cultivates learning at every opportunity. They recognise there are always different and better ways to approach an issue. Such a mindset helps you nurture a sustainable career. You are better able to cope when things don’t go your way — for example, when a job application or interview goes badly.
Cultivating a growth mindset is critical when you’re trying to leap and change careers.
We all have default ways of thinking and patterns of behaviour. These subconscious thought processes and actions often play out as habits — the things we do because we’ve always done them. They feel safe, comfortable and familiar.
When you are doing something new, looking to make a leap, you need to break the old habits and patterns of default thinking and embrace intentional thinking. When you are intentional, you are considered (you have weighed up the pros and cons of your ideas) and deliberate (you are aware of your decision making and take accountability for it).
We make decisions every day: what to wear, what time to go to work, how to answer an email. We also make decisions with our career: what role we apply for, whether to stay or go, to do more study, to apply for that promotion.
These decisions involve choices. By deciding to do one thing over another, we make an intentional selection from a range of options.
It takes effort to make a considered decision, in which you weigh up the pros and cons and think about what you may need to ‘trade’ as a result.
In her bestselling book Yes Please, Amy Poehler recounts how one time, when she was on an overnight train to New York, she was rudely awoken by someone who dumped a script on her lap as he was disembarking. Clearly he had the expectation (or perhaps hope) that she would read it and help him leap into stardom.
Needless to say, she didn’t help him. She was incensed by his assumption that he could achieve his goal so easily — by getting someone else to do the hard work for him.
As Poehler puts it, ‘Good or bad, the reality is most people become “famous” or get “great jobs” after a very, very long tenure shovelling shit and not because they handed their script to someone on the street… People don’t want to hear about the fifteen years of waiting tables…’
Now you may be thinking, ‘Hey, give him 10 points for effort. At least he asked the question — isn’t that being courageous?’
Courage would have been staying on the train and waiting until Amy had woken up before approaching and speaking to her. He might have had to miss a meeting or be late for an appointment, but he would have seized the opportunity to have a direct and respectful conversation with her, rather than being intrusive and discourteous while selfishly hoping for the best.
Courage is being willing to do the hard work to change both ourselves and our circumstances when we need to, rather than submitting and accepting that change is outside our control. This may mean taking a hard look at ourselves and working out what in us needs to change, so we are ready for the future that we want to be a part of.