I had someone ask me recently how she could know where she was going. Because I like alliterations we’ll call her Worried Wanda. Wanda was just told by her manager that her role was changing (albeit slightly, it felt like a huge change to her) and she wanted to know what that meant for the trajectory of her career. She was worried she was getting boxed in, type casted, and limited based on what the new definition of the role meant. Now, Wanda does some good work for the company, as in, she is someone behind the scenes that is completing all of the hard things that no one else wanted to touch. She is the one that everyone forgets to thank and give accolades to because she is working on things that are foundational. These are things that hold the whole place together and she keeps them running. Wanda is also one who never talks about her hopes and dreams. You wouldn’t even know she gave a second thought to being boxed in, type casted, or limited. You would have thought she was perfectly content doing her thing until the end of her days with the company. When she asked me “What path do you think this change will allow me?” I honestly think my first thought, in the best and most respectful way possible, was do you really even want a path to go anywhere?
That sounds a little rude right? Thankfully, I didn’t respond quite like that. Also it’s a useless question because as surprised as I was, the answer was clearly yes. If not, Wanda wouldn’t have sought out my opinion and spent the past 20 minutes telling me about how concerned she was. Instead I asked her more questions. I asked where she wanted to be, what she wanted to do, and how she wanted to feel when she was there. She said she wasn’t sure because this whole change would affect it. I am a firm believer in opportunities and knowing they will show up regardless of what your job title, experience, or bank account has to say about them. The question is more so, where do you want to be and are you willing to accept the opportunities when they come? So, I asked her to fill me in on what she wanted prior to her role changing. Let me tell you, Wanda lit right up! She had so many aspirations and with a little more coaxing she was able to explain the ‘what’ and her ‘why’ in crystal clear detail. It was so interesting because even though I’d known her for years I had no idea this was her goal though she was clearly very passionate about it.
Next I asked Wanda if she knew, prior to the job change, ‘how’ to get there? She had a vague idea of what skills in her current job equipped her for what she saw as the next step. Then she was pretty much at a loss. Wanda’s map took her from her one step to the next but that second one was standing on the edge of a cliff with her dream on the other side. She spiraled a little at that point explaining how she only knew the one step and if her role changed she didn’t even know that anymore! I smiled on the other end of the phone knowing she was so much closer than she even realized. I asked her to go back to the end goal for a little bit. To feel that excitement again. Imagine what that person, Wildly Wonderful Wanda, does on a daily basis. What tasks is she doing and how does it feel? What does she know and who does she work with? Think through all of it. Now, forget about what they call you or if there is a new or removed task from your desk. What can you do to do more of what she does, feel more like she feels, know what she knows and who she knows?
I could all but see Wanda’s wheels turning. She had ideas now and could put them in motion and it was all because she thought more clearly about who she wanted to be, and really understood who that Wonderful version was. For those who read this as a nice story featuring a woman with a fun name, let’s break down the steps.
Know what you want. By that I mean the culmination. Does that have to be a specific role or title, no. It can be a type of work, a feeling, a balance with life, etc. It isn’t so much about knowing where your first step is from where you’re at but knowing the destination. Once you know that, you can figure out what is on the map to get you from where you are to where you want to be. There is a lot of gray in the unknown so trying to start to granular, like turn right on Maple and left on Main street, can get overwhelming because, like Wanda, you may not know what the third turn is or how far down Main it comes. I mean, how could you if you didn’t know the final destination? Each step is pretty dependent on if you’re going to Orlando or Portland. If you know where you’re going you can piece together the rest. If you’re unclear answer the same questions Wanda did. Imagine where you want to be, the type of work you want to be doing, and the way you want to feel.
Say it out loud, to yourself and to people. It is really difficult to get what you want or even work toward it if you never say it. Likewise, it is impossible for others who want to see you succeed to do anything to help if they don’t know what you want. To compound that they may even be inadvertently working against you because they think they know what you want and are working to help you attain that. For the most part people want to support you. They want to build you up and push you in the right direction. So give them a hand by letting them know what direction you’re hoping to go. There was so much power unleashed when Wanda said her goal out loud.
Align yourself with allies. These could be someone who directly controls what you want. For example your boss, if you’re looking for a promotion. A friend or former colleague if you’re looking to switch companies, swap kid watching duties, or plan a girls night in. It could be your spouse, if you’re looking to take a vacation, get some major projects done, or swap kid watching duties. These could also be people who are connected, like a mentor, pastor, or coach, and help point you toward the things you want. Finally they could just be a support and accountability group that will help you stay on task for what you want. These are all allies that will be invaluable to you as you grow. Also hint, when I say that you have to say what you want out loud, you’ll need to be brave enough to say it to the allies so they can work their magic. It sounds obvious but these allies are typically the people we’re the most worried about their opinions and we seem to think their mind readers, they aren’t.
Understand the tools you have and the ones you’ll need. We all have tools and skills at our disposal, all of us. You’ll need to get crystal clear on what those are. Then you need to be pretty clear on what the tools and skills are for what you want in the end so you can start building on them. If you’re a great organizer, communicator, and confidant today that’s great! Own that. If for the end result you’ll need to be an even better organizer, a strategist, and be able to mingle at social gatherings, well, I guess we know where we build on what we have and where need to stretch ourselves. You will undoubtedly find out as you move toward the end goal that there are other skills you didn’t know you needed to develop like budgets or ability to make pretty graphs. No problem, we’ll just add those in as they come. These are your personal continuous improvement. The point is you’ll be more prepared because you’ll be aware and more confident in the skills you already have and you’ll have a plan of attack for the rest.
Do the work to bridge the gap. There is no way around it, you have to actually do the work. You have to build the skills. You have to promote yourself in the areas that will get you closer to where you want to be. You have to apply for something that will get you one step closer. You have to be brave enough to leave your comfort zone and do something different. I myself am really good at talking it up, making the plan, hinting at doing it, and then falling flat. Its not out of lack of ability but out of fear and I’m not alone. Nothing will change, for me or for Wanda or for you, unless we change it. So after the dreaming and scheming and planning is over, go do the work because hard work pays off.