Serendipity can have a larger impact on our career success than we want to admit. For better or worse, the biggest moments of our career might be due to chance--when, for example, our industry swerves away from our skill set, the executive who mentored us leaves our organization, or someone posts about a job opening on social media. Ask a friend or colleague to describe their career path, and you'll see how fate plays a role in nearly everyone's path.
But I'm not satisfied with leaving my career to chance, so I've learned a few ways to exercise greater control over my professional success. Here's how you can do the same.
Define your professional values.
Do you even know what you want out of your career? Most people don't, leaving them at the mercy of external factors like changing customer trends, economic conditions, or their leader's priorities.
So take a quiet half hour to reflect on your professional values. What elements are most important to you at work? These could include advancement, flexibility, or leadership opportunities.
Once you've selected five or six, rank them carefully so you'll know how to proceed when they conflict. Your professional values should underpin every career decision you make going forward. And they may change over time, so revisit them periodically.
Early in my career, I knew maximizing my income was important to me professionally, so I deliberately chose a career in sales that would maximize my income potential. I also knew I wanted to have a life outside of work, so I opted not to pursue a career in finance or investment banking. Acknowledging my professional values early on allowed me to be deliberate in making career decisions and directing my professional trajectory accordingly.
Learn to say no.
One of the most important lessons for any leader is realizing that you can't--and shouldn't--do everything, especially those activities of low value to your organization and your own career goals. "Low value" depends on your situation, but it could mean a networking event, a request to "pick your brain," or a project below your skill level.
If you're not deliberate in fielding incoming requests, you'll find your time and energy consumed by everyone else's priorities. Saying no to low-value activities can be surprisingly hard, but remember that by doing so, you create headspace to focus on work that is more valuable to the organization and aligned to your ultimate career goals.
Thankfully, as a leader, you have the authority to delegate or outsource to your team. So that networking event, coffee date, or project might not be the best use of your time, but it could be a growth opportunity for one of your junior staff members.
Be ready and willing to transform.
As my industry, interests, and opportunities have changed over the years, I have deliberately "disrupted" myself professionally at least six or seven times. I've gone from frontline salesperson to sales leader, from chief marketing officer to executive vice president of thought leadership, from executive officer to author, coach, and podcast host. Each change required a leap of faith, a degree of risk, and a willingness to learn an entirely new skill set. Not easy, but it's required if you want to stay on top of waves of change and uncertainty, rather than be engulfed by them.
Throughout my career, I've maintained control of my path because I was willing to make deliberate disruptions to change course. Now, no one else gets to decide what I'll do next or whether I'll find professional fulfillment. It's up to me and the deliberate decisions I make. The same can be true for you.