13 May 8 Ways to Grow your Career Sustainably
Careers of the 21st century are no longer linear. Therefore the idea of career growth in today’s times cannot be linear too. Career growth is not only an upward movement in careers, it has multiple other meanings and markers.
What are some of these markers and what can you aspire to as career growth in an expanded sense of the term
- Doing work where you use your core strengths and skills and are rewarded for that
- Being regularly engaged in activities which generate income and livelihood for you
- Having the flexibility to pursue varied interests, opportunities for learning
- Being able to respond to the changing nature of the job market, with its demands for new kinds of skills, formats of engagement, nature of work
- Feeling a sense of autonomy and agency over the way you make choices related to work
- Having the opportunity for periodic renewal and replenishment
- Developing relationships through work which energize you
- Engaging in work which harmonizes the use of your mental, emotional and physical energies
As our lives become increasingly longer, the idea of career growth must also include that of sustainable growth, a plan for growing our careers over the 60-80 years of our working lives. According to Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, authors of the 100 Year Life, in a 100 year life which many of us may have as longevity increases, it becomes especially important to think about what career growth means against a background of turbulence in employment as technology-fuelled, corporate and demographic changes coalesce.
Against this expansive view of career growth, what are some steps you can take to achieve career growth? To answer this, it can help to look at careers in broad stages, which can be mapped into early career, mid-career and later career. While these are not set in stone, the strategies and mindsets for career growth can be prioritized according to these stages.
This is the best time to set in motion practices and approaches towards career growth which will compound over time. And contrary to what a lot of young professionals may be conditioned to believe, blockbuster success in your early career is neither a sure shot mantra for later career success nor is it the goal to go after. To grow your career in the early stage, follow these principles
Read – The Many Kinds of Career Transitions
- Make curiosity your best friend: When you are starting out at work, everything is worth learning. And if you find yourself wanting to try out multiple things, you should! Many young people mistakenly feel that because they have invested a number of years into education/training in a certain area, their early career experiences must be related to that. This is limiting and while your education/training should serve as a springboard for your early stints, there is no need to confine yourself to opportunities narrowly related to that.
Take the case of Sampark Sachdeva (Winner of the LinkedIn Spotlight 2019, an exclusive list of the 14 top content creators on LinkedIn with the most engaging & viewed content), a Sales & Marketing professional by qualification. Sampark has carved out a huge personal brand for himself as a top content creator by pursuing his deep interest in networking, writing and content creation.
So be curious and pursue your interests – this is the stage of your career where with relatively fewer responsibilities, you can follow your interests even though they may not be immediately monetizable or become full time employment opportunities. You never know at which stage of your career, these will turn into a goldmine.
- Learn to Sell: “But I don’t want to be a sales person,” you may say. Selling is not about becoming a sales person. Early in your career, if you understand that selling is about presenting yourself and your ideas in a persuasive and impactful way, you will go far in your career- whether you want to rise to the top of an organization or become an entrepreneur and be your own boss.
Selling anything, an idea, service or product, enhances your skills of being able to relate to another person’s needs and speak to her in a way she connects with the most. It doesn’t have to take the sales person route – you could be a designer, designing beautiful communication and creatives, or you could be a data analyst, using advanced data visualization techniques to support and present your analysis compellingly.
Learning to sell early in your career, makes you recognizable as a brand and as a powerhouse of ideas and influence, making it easy to drive your career growth.
- Go after results, not recognition and titles: You can save yourself much career angst later in your career, if you prioritize RESULTS over RECOGNITION/TITLES from your early career. In today’s world of work, titles mean less than they did in the more hierarchical earlier work milieu. Even so, a complaint often heard from young professionals is that someone else got credit for their work.
Frustrating as this may sound, do the hard work of going after results and your career will get onto a strong wicket. Knowing that you can go after big goals and make them happen, gives you a surge of confidence in your own abilities and this can be very important as you seek out bigger and meatier opportunities to grow your career later too.
Read – 7 Career Sins….Revealed
Mid career can often feel like the most confusing, exhausting, monotonous and unrewarding stages of our careers. It may feel harder to notch up the successes which once came easily and exciting, meaningful opportunities which feel right, may be much more difficult to come by.
Still, there are clear strategies for career growth in mid-career too. These strategies are built around the tripod of developing deeper self-awareness, mindfully combating mid-career fatigue and boredom through trying out new things and opening up to new connections and experiences.
- Think about ‘how’ you want to work instead of what you want to work as: Asking yourself what job do I want can get you in a knot. Often, you may come up with something too close to what you’re already doing (read boring and unexciting). Or you become so specific that you’re left with very little room to discover and experiment.
Work around this typical mid-career problem, by changing the question. Ask yourself ‘how’ you want to feel at work: who are the kinds of people you would like as colleagues, what kind of a workplace would you like to have, what kind of clients can you delight and feel delighted to serve?
Flip the question to arrive at a fresh answer – you will find that you are now thinking of who needs you and your skills instead of thinking about what is the kind of job you need. A lot of lateral career growth can be unlocked through this approach.
- Find and inhabit intersections: Magic happens at intersections and boundaries and mid-career is the best time to discover this magic. With more fluid workplaces, work structures and even inter-connected areas of knowledge, inhabiting these intersections vaults you into the realm of new people, new ideas and therefore completely new opportunities.
Where do you find these intersections? Non-work interests are a great place to bump into new people while also giving your jaded spirit something to feel energized about. Cross-functional stints also increase your ability to use the intersections in your favour. The counter-intuitive approach to career growth in mid-career, is not to work harder and longer at what you already do, but instead divert that time to discovering intersections and then playing at those.
Career growth is sure to happen if you can turn seeking out intersections into a habit, scheduling intersectional conversations somewhat like this
- Weekly once with people you already know about things or ideas you don’t yet know
- At least a once-in-a -fortnight conversation/meeting with people you don’t already know
- Get an outside-in view: A big reason why career growth at mid-career feels elusive is because of overusing or narrowly using only a few skills and behaviours. You search for growth in places which are already crowded with others, because you sell a very narrow idea of who you are and what you bring. And often that’s because you haven’t asked that question of yourself with genuine curiosity.
Career growth at mid-career comes from expanding your understanding of yourself, knowing what skills are under-used and what mindsets are blocking you from taking new steps. Getting an outside-in view of yourself, by working with a career coach, can open your eyes to parts of yourself which hold immense promise to carve out new and fulfilling careers. In the words of a few career changers at mid-career who we have worked with:
“As I looked back on my career and life story, I found that every time a chance for big, bold growth came my way, I had turned my back towards it, instead continuing to do things which I already knew well. Conversations with my coach made me aware of how there were some skills which I was just not putting out there and how to build my future career story around these.”
“The coaching helped me uncover a few hidden problems which were making my career transition complicated. I was able to see clearly where my interest lies and identify what I could do to pursue those interests. I also benefited from having a clear strategy to reach out to my mentors and ask for support. I am happy to say that the coaching process enabled me to make a shift in my career change process and move to a new role within 3 months.”
Find a career coaching expert who can unlock new avenues of career growth at mid-career for you and your career will thank you for it.
Read – Please Don’t Think There is Only One Perfect Career Choice
With careers spanning 60-70 years as our lives get longer, don’t be surprised with a late career surge as well, if you keep in mind these strategies for career growth in later career stages
- Stack your talents, not your titles: As we move towards fluid and non-linear careers, your talents and skills will matter far more than your titles. And as you amass experiences over your professional life, you will find yourself with a wide set of talents and skills. Getting gold out of this in late career, hinges on your capacity to combine or stack your skills and interests into unique, winning combinations which no one else has.
For instance, you may combine your years of people leadership experience, your skills in working with senior professionals from diverse fields and your flair for theatre and performing arts to become a communications coach for C-suite level executives.
Stack your talents in unique, compelling combinations
Remember, that career growth has multiple shades and meanings and doing work which meaningfully expresses your best skills and interests is a great example of growth.
- Manage different forms of your energy: With the array of career choices and possibilities which exist today, and many more which will emerge, the only thing which can hold you back from growing yourself through these opportunities, will be a lack of energy. Especially in the later years of your career, how you manage your mental, emotional and physical energy will be vital in whether you can grow your career the way you want to.
Exhaustion, disengagement and dampening productivity are all symptoms of lack of and decline in mental, emotional and physical energy. Engage in work which is challenging and of interest to develop mental energy. Practice self-care through exercise, meditation and pursuing hobbies to replenish physical and emotional energy. Widen and deepen your relationships, because that is where emotional energy will also come from. Finally, cherish and reward yourself for your achievements so far, big and small and going forward, direct your career growth by setting an intention for how you want to work and what you want your body of work to be remembered as.
Read Also – ‘DESIGN THINKING’ IN CAREERS
Kavita, an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad, brings 20 years of experience in Experiential Learning, Coaching, Personal Growth & Change. Her forte is Career Transition Coaching and Leadership Development for mid-senior individuals, helping them find success and fulfilment at work . She also teaches Career & Self Development courses at leading management institutes including IIM Kozhikode, IIM Udaipur, IIM Indore and at the IITs.