The Four Keys of Professional Success

The Four Keys of Professional Success

The new rules of work require an update of what we all considered the road to success. It definitely doesn’t run up a vertical ladder with neat job descriptions to guide you along the way. We live in the midst of a revolution, and you must learn to rely on your own internal compass to guide you.

The bad news is, this can feel unnerving, chaotic, and unmanageable to those of us used to the old operating rules. The good news is, once you understand how to navigate the new marketplace, you don’t have to fit into somebody else’s box. You can develop a strategic plan for your own career to generate work that does more than just produce a paycheck—it feeds your spirit. Becoming adept in the following four areas will move you along toward these rewards:

1. You have to know what you want.

There is simply no substitute for Vision. You have to take the time necessary to engage in self-reflection and understand what you want for yourself and your work. The answers have to be yours—not what your parents want, or your spouse or your kids or your friends—what you want. You can’t answer with what you think you should want. You have to find out (admit?) what you actually do want. The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland made the definitive statement on this point: If you don’t know where you’re going, any place will do. Not a useful strategy for finding success and fulfillment.

Too many of us keep expecting someone to tell us what we ought to be doing in the world. We keep expecting someone to deliver the message from the mount, “This is what you’re fabulous at doing; you should go do it.” It doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to find out for yourself what you want because no one else is qualified to do it.

2. You have to be capable.

Once you know what you want, you must have the necessary skills to do it well. This may mean redirecting expertise you already have toward more fulfilling work. It may mean signing up for a few seminars or courses to bring yourself up to date with market demand. Or you may leave your current profession and turn a hobby into your life’s work. Whatever route you take, you have to know what you need to be doing to be successful and make a commitment that you’re willing to do it.

3. You have to let other people know what you’re capable of doing.

This amounts to a publicity campaign and you are in charge. Being a treasure trove of knowledge and skill does not guarantee success if no one knows about your wonderful qualities. You have to be willing to advertise your “product”—talk about yourself and your accomplishments. You don’t have to be flamboyant if that’s not your style. But even if you’re not a natural salesperson, you must develop a message and way of approaching people that you’re comfortable with and put yourself out there.

Men do it all the time. They seem to have been weened on self promotion. And when women don’t promote themselves, men conclude they haven’t done anything worth talking about. Any savvy PR professional will tell you that managing the market’s perception is critical to commercial success. People are talking about you one way or the other. If you don’t manage the information they use to draw their conclusions, you are gambling with your reputation. Take charge of your publicity. Typically loathe to talk much about themselves, I have my clients write “Success Stories.” Stories are a soft way of bringing attention to your accomplishments. The subject is a work project they are especially proud of. In just a few sentences they describe a problem they faced at work, the solution they applied and the result that occurred. Just one story can be used all week long when the opportunity arises.

4. You must help other people help you.

You must jettison the notion that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Whatever image the “go it alone” type conveyed to previous generations, it does not apply to the networked, interdependent, Web-linked world today. You may be a company of one, but you can’t accomplish your goals without other people. Ask them to help you with your mission. Which, of course, you have to be clear about before you can explain what kind of help will be useful to you.

Remember that it’s a great gift to be able to help other people. What goes around comes around, so helping others benefits you in the long run. Plus you get to feel good about yourself. So when you ask for help, you’re actually offering someone else an opportunity.