Do you sometimes feel stuck or like you’ve reached a plateau in your career but are unsure what to do? Vanessa Tai speaks to career coach Yasmine Khater on how to get yourself out of a career rut.
According to the recent “What Women Want @ Work” study conducted by LinkedIn, 54.3 percent of respondents in Singapore said one of their main career challenges was being unable to see a clear career path. Incidentally, says Khater, that’s the first step to achieving career success.
Step 1: Know What You Want
Having worked with women from all over the world, Khater says a common trait she notices among women across cultures is that we often don’t know what we want. There exists a dichotomy between what people around us expect of us and what we want for ourselves, so we often feel pulled in many different directions. How do we silence the opinions surrounding us and dig deep to figure out what we really want?
Khater suggests coming up with three lists – 1) Should be; 2) Ought to be; and 3) Want to be. The first list is what the people around you — boss, partner, family, friends — expect from you. The second is what you think you should be, based on these people’s opinions and expectations. Finally, the third list is what you truly want, which may have nothing to do with the first two lists. This may be a simple exercise, but it can illuminating to see the disparity between your wants versus other people’s expectations. From there, it’s up to you to find your voice and not bow down to outside opinion.
To illustrate this point, Khater shared with me about one of her client’s experiences. Her client is a working mother of young children who happened to love her job. Because her husband didn’t enjoy his job anyway, they made a joint decision that he would be a stay-home dad while she continued working. However, her parents were so unhappy that their daughter was being the sole breadwinner that they actually wanted her to divorce her husband. It was not easy for Khater’s client to convince her parents about the validity of her decisions, but ultimately, because she was clear about what she wanted to achieve in her career, she was able to stand by her decision with conviction.
Step 2: Communicate Your Wants
Women tend to be less vocal in the workplace, which makes it harder for bosses to know about your achievements or career aspirations. If you want progress, you’ll need to ensure you’re visible. Khater cited another example of her client who had managed a big project on her own. After the project was completed, she walked into her boss’ office and said, “I’ll like you to congratulate me.” Of course, her boss was initially taken aback, but after she explained to him about the project she successfully managed, he was impressed at her capabilities and confidence. From that incident, he took more notice of her and assigned her bigger responsibilities.
I understand not all of us may be gutsy enough to pull off that move. Or perhaps your office culture is such that marching straight into your boss’ office may be frowned upon. That’s okay. You don’t have to be “in-your-face” when it comes to highlighting your successes. The most important thing to remember is, you need to be proactive in keeping your bosses updated on what you’ve been doing. Also, be open with them what else you hope to achieve during your time in the company. Khater says, “In my experience, people are generally pretty supportive if you tell them exactly what you want.”
Step 3: “I Am Enough”
This final step is actually an ongoing process, which all of us have to keep at no matter how long we’ve been in the workforce. And that is to always remind yourself, “I am enough.” Different experiences or circumstances can throw us off and lead us to thinking things such as, “I’m not capable enough,” or “I’m not experienced enough.”
You’ll be surprised at how many sub-conscious messages we have lingering at the back of minds, colouring the way we think and behave. For example, according to the recently-released Cetaphil Skin Confidence Report 2014, 38 percent of women in Singapore chose to stay at home when they had a bad skin day, and 28 percent of women even postponed an important event because they didn’t feel beautiful enough.
To combat this defeatist mindset, you first need to be aware of all these lingering thoughts. When you have some quiet time, sit down and make two lists:
1) “I am _____ enough.”
2) “I am NOT _____ enough.”
In these two lists, fill in all the messages you’ve been telling yourself, whether consciously or sub-consciously. It can be anything, from the way you look to how you present yourself. Once you’re aware of all these messages, you’ll get a clearer picture on how they affect your behaviour. From there, it may be easier to take corrective steps.
Apart from creating awareness of these thoughts, Khater also suggests three tools that can serve as tangible reminders. Once you’ve decided what you want from your career (see Step 1), create a vision board that will spur you on when you’re wavering or feeling unsure. You can also start something what Khater calls her “Love File” where she files away emails and letters from satisfied clients, and a “Gratitude Jar” where she drops in notes on the things she’s grateful for. These three tools are especially useful whenever she needs a confidence boost or a reminder as to why she’s _____ enough.
About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.
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