I used to believe that the road to "success" was paved with hard work and being busy - working harder, smarter, faster, taking on more work, taking on more responsibility, giving of myself, being involved in everything possible, being seen to be contributing everywhere and to everything that mattered to everyone else.
You can picture it can't you? This eager beaver working long days and nights - at the office by 7am, never leaving before 6pm, taking work home in the evenings and over weekends, attending every meeting, volunteering for every committee and initiative, contributing thoughts at every opportunity, being available whenever required (and even when not). Saying YES to everything (while slowly but surely burning out, annoying colleagues along the way, losing sight of her true self, investing in everyone except for herself, and never taking time to look up, take a breath, and figure out if she was still moving in the right direction!)
I was at a talk last night, presented by Peter Christie from Not the Bored Room where he told the story of "Jumping Mouse". The introduction reminded me so much of my old self caught up in the busyness of life, too busy to look up and invest in myself, my growth, my dreams.
The beauty of the "Jumping Mouse" story, is that you can interpret it in whatever way you like - something from the story will always resonate. My big take home from "Jumping Mouse" was about the importance in investing in your own career, and that a big part of that is about getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks, learning new skills, engaging with new experiences, exploring your goals, taking action, investing in relationships, asking for help, and taking control of your own destiny.
So without further ado - here are some thoughts on investing in yourself.
Get out of your comfort zone!
In this last year I have taken the biggest risk of my life - I got out of my comfort zone and have learned skills that would have been so useful to me in my previous career, had I just looked up from the busyness. Being in a comfort zone is exactly that - comfortable - it's not stretching, it's not challenging, and it's no way to grow and develop yourself. If you want to invest in yourself my first piece of advice is get right out of your comfort zone and start challenging yourself.
Develop new skills!
You may not need these skills right now, but at some point they may just be the reason someone hires you. When you work in a safe corporate job with lots of support staff to do stuff for you, it doesn't seem necessary to develop a whole range of skills in addition to your core technical competence. But be clear on one thing - a safe stable job is a thing of the past - employers are now looking for agile, resilient, multi-skilled employees that add value and don't get caught up in doing non-value adding tasks. And, if you have any intention of being self-employed one day, there is a multitude of skills required to be successful in the business of being you (that's a discussion for another blog).
Surround yourself with people who hold you accountable to a higher standards than you hold yourself!
That's one of the best ways of pushing your boundaries, learning quickly and finding out what you are really capable of.
When you start getting clear on who you are, what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are, what you value, how you prefer to work, what you will stand for and what you absolutely will not tolerate - life becomes so much clearer (as a double bonus it becomes easier to laugh at yourself and take yourself less seriously). When you know yourself, it becomes easier to know others, to build connections, to reach out and ask for help, to surround yourself with people that prop you up where you are weak and complement your strengths. One of the best ways to get to know yourself is to stop being busy and invest some of your time in introspection and reflection. Coaching is another great way of developing insights about yourself.
Develop your bank of experiences! In the rush to climb the career ladder, I see so many young professionals making the assumption that once they have done something once or twice, they are a master at it and should be able to move upwards. My advice - invest the time in really understanding things from first principles and be humble in recognising that building a depth and breadth of experience builds confidence and credibility - but it takes time. There is nothing worse than moving into a more senior position and finding out that actually you don't know what you are doing. Take time to shadow more senior people, connect with mentors that you can learn from, ask questions, get your hands dirty and learn as much as you can before you race for another promotion.
Nurture your networks - connect with people that have your dream job!
Most successful people will more than happily share what they have learned, be willing to mentor you and help you connect with others, when they see that you take the time to invest in yourself. So nurture your networks - above, sideways and below - you never know where people will end up. Look for people that you can learn from, that can mentor you, that can help broaden your network, that will introduce you and make recommendations on your behalf. And always, always look for ways to give value to those in your network, rather than just seeking to extract value.
And above all, have some goals that you are working towards. Yes there are those who look like success falls into their lap (I will bet you though that those people are actually investing in themselves and reaping the rewards of doing so). But for most of us, we need to have goals to give us direction. These goals don't need to be cast in stone. But if you don't know where you want to get to, then as the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland reminds us "it doesn't matter which path you take".
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