Owning your career: Take charge, take action, and give yourself a break
by Eleanor Dempsey, Director of Consultancy & Competency, Auxilion
Sometime in the future we’ll all look back on the pandemic with a mix of emotions and personal reflections. COVID-19 turned our world’s upside down. There was loss, restrictions on personal freedoms and turbulence to degrees many of us could never have imagined. Some lost loved ones, others lost jobs but all of us lost our sense of normality.
This ‘new-normal’ is most pronounced for many people when it comes to their professional lives. The worst been the sweeping wave of redundancies and unemployment. Open-ended furloughs. Reduced hours and transformed working conditions. A 100% (or close enough) move to working from home (WFH). Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype for eight hours a day. No canteen or water-cooler chats with your colleagues. No face-to-face workshops and no opportunity to access or influence many of those decisions that are often made in corridors. For others that always WFH, they were no longer the exception but the rule. Did it level the playing field? Did it equalise access to leadership? Did it showcase and propel problem solvers and ideas-people into the spotlight?
Much of the above will be answered when the eye of the storm is in our rear-view mirror. But we shouldn’t wait for the world to normalise before we take back control. When you can’t control the world, you focus on the things that only you are in charge in of (regardless of the world) i.e. your career, your progression and your future. While you can’t always control what happens to you, you most certainly can control how you react, how you plan and decisions you make. Especially when it comes to actively creating your career path.
I’ve always been a big believer in the idea of a ‘Growth Mindset’ i.e. that your talents can be developed through hard work, a good strategy, and input and guidance from mentors and your network. As opposed to a ‘Fixed Mindset’ whereby the belief is talent is innate and can’t be learned or developed. I believe that a growth mindset is within everyone’s reach with the caveat that you take responsibility and personal ownership; this is a skill all project managers develop through education, experience and hard graft. The leap that people often don’t take is incorporating this into their own career building and not just client projects.
“Mirror Mirror on the Wall”
Take a minute, have a word with yourself (perhaps in front of a mirror) and remind yourself that career planning is a process. Put a project plan around it and remember to draw from all your achievements and successes (literally write them down for every year that you can remember. Every milestone. Every achievement you’re proud of). Building your personal brand and being your own cheerleader takes time, commitment and a strategy.
Lucky 7 (but it’s not luck)
- Take Control: Everyone is living their own life and charting their own path. They don’t have time to create one for you. It’s up to you so get started. Be realistic but be bold too.
- Get Skilled: Upskill and cross skill. Continuous learning isn’t just about adding strings to your bow but also demonstrating a commitment to self-improvement.
- Set the Agenda: Assume the responsibility to get the job done (As PMs…this is literally in our DNA)
- Adapt: The truth is that people that raise their hands and become part of the solution (even if it’s out of your comfort zone) will be remembered.
- Interactions Matter: Communication skills are paramount. This doesn’t mean you need to be an extrovert but demonstrating empathy and emotional intelligence shows you’re open-minded, emphatic and a great listener.
- Get Exposure: Get noticed for the right reason and understand what you’re known for (what’s your personal brand?)
- Stay Positive & Future Focused: There’ll be highs and lows but focus on your North Star and any unexpected deviations will just be bumps in the road; you know where you’re going.
Be Easy on Yourself
This year has been hard. Maybe you need to prioritise self-care, family or downtime for now. And that’s ok. Your experience and talents won’t go away. The important thing to remember is that your career (and life) is in your hands. You set the project schedule (sorry I had to say it). Remember to take time for yourself, take time to discover what you want and even if you don’t know what that looks like, give yourself permission to take risks. Find mentors. Become a mentor; it often reminds you how far you’ve come. My final words - keep having conversations.
Consulting & Competency Director at Auxilion
Eleanor has worked across a wide range of senior roles throughout her time working at the organisation.
As an experienced industry leader, Eleanor has managed multiple successful projects in the public and private sectors.
Eleanor is renowned as an IT, project and business transformation expert with over 20 years’ management experience.