Are You Driving Your Career or Just Along for the Ride?

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As I travel my own career path, I’ve noticed two types of people traveling alongside me. Those who are driving and those who are in the passenger seat just along for the ride and hoping their career path leads someplace good.

Take initiative

What I have noticed is those that who are driving are the more fulfilled lot. That said, I’m sure there are many of you reading this who may be younger and might be asking, “So how do I get in the driver’s seat, and what does that mean?” To address the latter, what it means is that you don’t just show up and wait to be picked. Instead, set yourself up for opportunities by establishing yourself as the obvious choice and in some cases, asking for opportunities before you are asked. So how do you do that?

First, start with attitude, it’s free! Show up with a positive can-do attitude every day. Second, own it! It’s always you! Don’t say, “That’s not my department.” Instead say, “I can help with that.” I had a mentor once tell me that more responsibility is taken than given. Start owning things and soon everyone will look to you as the expert. It wasn’t that it was assigned to you, but you established yourself as the expert so it’s you! Bang! You just became more integral and key to the organization.

Learn more about the organization

Next, be curious. Ask questions and work to understand the organization and what’s important to them. When you understand this, you can focus your work on supporting those values and yes, become a key part of the organization because you’re working on what’s important to them.

A great way to do that is to read the business plan. It will tell you what’s most important to the organization. What is their mission, what are their long-term goals, what are their short-term goals, etc.? As you read it ask yourself, where am I in this plan? What pieces are a part of the plan? What teams, what projects, what goals?

If you can’t see your team or self in the plan that’s a problem. Why aren’t you top of mind in the plan? Go to work on things that will get you into the plan and are most important to the organization. Let your managers know what you have an interest in. Likely they would be impressed if you said, “Hey I read xyz in the business plan. I’d love the opportunity to be involved, it sounds fascinating.” Once you do that, you just passed another milestone on your career path where you are in the driver’s seat.

Be aware

While there are many things you can do to get in the driver’s seat on your career path, having an awareness of driving versus riding can guide you in your actions. Always be aware of the persona that you are exhibiting. Make sure it’s the persona that aligns with your career goals. Think about how you dress, how you speak, your mannerisms, etc.

I read somewhere that 80%+ of communication is non-verbal. Are your actions and image speaking so loud others can’t hear what you’re saying? If your goal is to be a manager, are you looking at the managers at the organization and above them on the org chart and asking “do I embody that?” Or am I still acting as I did in high school or as I would be when I’m out with my buddies?

Talk to the leaders

I’ll leave you with one last tip. Remember I said to ask questions… well do that, but be sure to ask questions of key leaders. “I see you lead the xyz team. Can you tell me about what you do on that team and why it’s important to our credit union and its members?”

This does a couple of things for you. You get to network and know players in key positions and show them you’re interested in more than coming to work, feeling secure, and going home with a paycheck. Rather you have a desire to understand what matters and to know more, and you will indeed know more about the business of the organization that will help you better understand how you can make yourself more valuable to them.

You can and should always put yourself on the other side of the desk. Think about it—if you’re the manager and you have an employee with a can-do attitude, who owns anything that comes their way, who is interested in what matters most to the organization, who wants to be a part of it, and whose persona embodies the values of the organization, don’t you think maybe you’d be interested in giving that person an opportunity when it arises?

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