As much as we learn in school and from our environments, growing up, we don’t get to witness how business people operate in professional spaces or how entrepreneurs navigate their way through different business ventures. We learn certain social skills from others around us and how to perform certain functions, but many of us are blind to how much control we have over our professional mobility. Whether you are thinking about starting or expanding a business, wanting to increase revenue, looking to make a career change, negotiating a salary increase, desiring a promotion, or just simply trying to take your life to the next level, it helps to have a framework that defines what success looks like to you.
Find Your Voice
Do you know who you are at your core? Do you prep yourself for your day in the morning before jumping on social media or reading whatever depressing stories the news has to offer? Not all of us are routine people (all of my fellow ENTPs) that need a detailed agenda that tells us where to be and what to do at every minute of every day, but a little pep talk (mentally, or aloud is even better) can have incredible influence over how the rest of your day goes.
Tell yourself the type of day you want to have and remind yourself to keep things in perspective. Be kind. Be grateful. Be curious. Be willing to learn from every experience and encounter. Try to remind yourself of what’s really important to you throughout your day. At the end of your day, debrief with yourself. Give yourself a performance review. How did you perform as a professional? As a business owner? As a colleague? Get to know who you are and build yourself into who you want to be every day, little by little. Review the areas of your life that you can do better in, be forgiving of yourself and then simply, do better…or don’t. But be accountable for the repercussions that come from not evolving into a better version of yourself. No one knows that you know better except you, so you have to be willing to live with that.
Recognize who you are, own who you are, and then be who you are, unapologetically.
Know Your Worth
Traditionally, bragging and boasting about one’s accomplishments, skills or talents was frowned upon because it was considered a form of arrogance or narcissism. As a result, this has caused many to adopt a humbler attitude in terms of how they promote their achievements in social spaces. While there is a time and place for everything, unfortunately, women have not quite figured out that the workplace is the time and the place for such highlighting.
If you have relevant experience in a role or a project, vocalize how your experience can contribute to the success of the organization, team, or project. Do not assume that just showing up and having a resume is enough; speak to what you bring to the table and say it with confidence. You were successful in the past, you learned from mistakes (either made by you or others) and you are the right person for the assignment. You have to genuinely believe it before you can convince someone else that you deserve it. Even with leaders or clients you have worked with before, remind them of your prior successes and share new ideas or concepts that are relevant to their business goals.
For those with formal education, highlight how your educational experience has prepared you for where you are today, even if your area of study does not directly relate to your current field of work. Pursuing and completing a formal education involves time management, experience working with groups, project management and leadership. For example, you may have led an assignment, formulated ideas for a project, and communicated innovative concepts. These same skills could apply to a stay-at-home parent. Remember to consider any extracurricular activities or volunteer opportunities that exposed you to different populations or taught you how to navigate in unfamiliar environments. Assess yourself beyond the traditional lines of formal education and professional experience.
Take a step back and look at all you have accomplished in your life—the small wins and the big wins that you achieved. Consider what made them so successful and what aspects made you most proud. If you could have done anything different, what would you have done? Think about your losses. Were they really losses or just detours to a path you didn’t expect or plan for? What have you learned from your mistakes and the mistakes of others? Look back at what you’ve been through and the perseverance it took to make it where you are today. Review your life experience, recognize the skills and knowledge you possess, make them sound all fancy when you write them down and market yourself boldly!
Write Your Own Story
If you are dissatisfied with any part of your life, ask yourself why. Challenge yourself to understand why you feel the way you do about certain things.
- Are their societal pressures or expectations that are driving you in a specific direction or making you feel rushed?
- Are you nervous about the responsibilities that come with the next level?
- Are you currently prepared for whatever the next level might be?
- Do you even know what the next level looks like for you?
- Are you pursuing something because it just seems like the thing to do or because you are trying to fit into a mold?
Figure out where you want to go; create a vision of your ideal self. I suggest you write it down so you can build an action plan. Even if you never take the steps to become that ideal person, at least you have defined, for yourself, who you would like to be. When you are ready to take the necessary steps to become that person, research what you need to accomplish the desired outcome (everything is on the Internet if you start with, “How do I…?”). Find resources, invest in yourself and take action. Obstacles will present themselves; they’re supposed to (nothing in life worth having comes easy), but that does not mean give up. It may mean try a different way, or maybe it means “not right now.” Give yourself some grace when things are simply out of your control. Reevaluate your circumstances and rework your plan until your plan works for you.
Don’t Get Comfortable
Whether you’re an employee or a business owner, don’t get comfortable. For anyone who has their checks signed by someone other than themselves, you are constantly at the mercy of an organization’s success. From entry level to executive, no one’s job is permanent or indefinitely secure. There’s a reason why employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements have termination clauses. No one is safe.
For successful business owners and entrepreneurs, there is no such thing as comfort because demands change frequently. Anyone not fortunate enough to already have a lifetime’s worth of assets, plus generational wealth already established, cannot afford to get comfortable. Keep your skills and knowledge sharp, keep up with technology and how people receive information, build networks and make connections; stay marketable at all times.
If you know you need more experience, formal training or education in something, invest the time and energy to get what you need to go where you want to go in life. It doesn’t always have to be a 27-year degree program with mountains of student loan debt either. Maybe it’s just watching a series of YouTube videos about stock investing and growing wealth, or a few online courses about business management so you can start or grow your business. If your company offers a tuition reimbursement program or tuition assistance, take advantage of it. If your company has a 401(k) plan or an employee assistance program, they most likely have a carrier that offers free financial education. Inquire into the already available resources around you and utilize them. The point is, once you have confidence in what you know and have all the necessary pieces to make the moves you want to make, the next step is to, simply, do it.
Ask for what you believe you deserve CONFIDENTLY. When you can look yourself in the mirror and know you have everything it takes to be successful in what you’re pursuing, making your demands known is a lot easier to do. “Demands” can be an intimidating word to some, but women (especially) need to be more demanding when seeking what we are owed because sitting around waiting for someone to give you something you know you deserve, will cause you to be resentful. You will lose your passion and motivation to put your best foot forward in everything you do because you’ll feel a way about being passed up…sometimes, repeatedly.
If you choose to stay silent about your compensation or your client fees, then you also choose to settle for where you are and remain comfortable (or worse, struggle). Knowing your worth, having a plan and staying marketable will give you the power to go into a negotiation with the understanding that, even if this opportunity does not work out, you know you are still qualified. Should you decide to accept what they (whoever the proverbial “they” are) are willing to offer or take your skilled and talented self somewhere else, at least you know that you took a chance. The worst response you can get is “no,” and sometimes, that could be just the response you need that leads you to a much better opportunity.
You Hold the Key; Use It
Being self-aware is a tremendous superpower to possess. If you don’t already know who you are, invest the time to learn. Assess who you are on a daily basis and make adjustments as necessary for continuous improvement. Be accountable for who you are, the decisions you choose to make and don’t choose to make. Own who you are through and through.
If you have the opportunity to demonstrate who you are, let your actions and results speak for themselves. If you have the opportunity to highlight your experience and skills, speak on them confidently. When you believe in yourself wholeheartedly, how others respond to you will have little-to-no effect on your pursuit of your ideal self. You will view closed doors as missed opportunities for “them.” You will acknowledge the presence of fear or anxiety and press on anyway because you have a vision and no one can bring that vision to fruition except the visionary.
Expect no handouts, hookups, discounts, shortcuts or favors from anyone. If opportunities make themselves available, scrutinize them and ask as many questions as necessary to ensure you have all the information you need to make a wise decision. Consult wise counsel (aka: people who know what they are talking about, have experience or subject matter experts) or even better, create and utilize a Mastermind. Once you have made a decision, move forward and deal with what comes next. Adjust your direction as needed because life is going to throw you some curveballs, but remember to be kind and forgiving to yourself along the way. You got this!