And, How to Avoid Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Career while you’re at it?
In my experience, women, including myself, often feel like we need a Ph.D. before we can call ourselves an expert. Pretty much every woman I know has at some point (or daily) suffered from feeling like an imposter.
Many young women that want to have both a career and a family, have started putting off the “family” part until their career is “ready.” And or they make vital decisions early on in their career because they see that on a certain path they may never be “ready” to be a mom.
I hear women young and old say “I am not ready yet.” Or, “I need to do this first.”
And although right now, you may think this next statement is off topic, I’ve also noticed that very few women go around saying “Look how lucky I am!”
What women do, is just about any and everything we can do to gain control over our lives because we don’t believe in luck.
But maybe we should. Maybe we SHOULD believe in luck.
Let’s break this down.
What does it mean to be “ready?” Or be “lucky?”
In my experience as a career coach, you are “ready” not when you’ve amassed a particular pile of qualifications, earned your Ph.D. or achieved a certain balance in your bank account.
Being ready is, in fact, a state of BEING.
Note that we talk about being ready, not doing ready. You don’t have to DO a bunch of stuff to be ready or make your own luck. On the flipside not doing is a fast track to making the BIGGEST MISTAKE (and sometimes consecutive mistakes) of your career.
Similarly, we don’t do luck, we don’t be lucky, instead we make luck.
Yes, that is terrible English, but stick with me!
How do you BE ready? And, what MAKES luck?
First, you need to commit to something and you need to know yourself.
As a woman of the 21st century, you are likely aware of how advertising and images affect our images of beauty and idealize what it means to be successful (bling, shiny smooth hair, nice cars, etcetera).
Pretty much everything my 4-year-old daughter already idealizes are all the things that have infiltrated our brains and made us think that we should be anything but whom we actually are.
While you may be sensitive to the influence of the media on women’s physical appearance, you may not be aware of is how much of your personal values and your ideas of personal success have also been influenced by the media. What’s more, it’s not only you the media influence, but also your family, your friends, and society as a whole. Oh, and also by the entire movement of “influencers.”
Then add in the biases embedded in your chosen field of study or work and WOW that is a lot of noise telling us as women not only how we should look and act, but also what we should VALUE.
So, one of the first steps to understanding yourself, being ready and defining your own idea of success, is to stop looking OUTHERE and turn our reflection inwards. Answer the question, what am I committed to?
On August 25th, 2018 I had a life-changing experience. Caught in a riptide while swimming in waves that seemed to have whipped up out of nowhere, I found myself carried farther and farther from the beach, I had to make a decision. I could give in to fear and fatigue and let my kids grow up without a mother or I could will myself to keep treading water and breathing calmly. I chose life as a mom.
Realizing that my fatigue came partially from my panicked state, I calmed myself down and focused. I realized that occasionally I could still touch the bottom and if I could touch the bottom I could wave my arms.
With one eye on the waves and with the knowledge that you can tread water for hours (at least that’s what I’d learned in water safety at age 12), I kept myself afloat. And when I could, I waved a big X or help signal towards the beach.
Finally, a young surfer, Tantely (honey in Malagasy) saw me. He recognized my situation and paddled out. The current was strong and it took him forever to arrive. Once he got to me we both had to hang on to the surfboard and swim. The waves were so rough I got a black eye from the surfboard, but I kept swimming.
Eventually, other surfers on the beach made a “fire line” out to us and they passed me in. I made it up to the beach and back to my kids. Once I sat down I began to shake, but I didn’t cry until I was home in bed that night.
You don’t really ever believe that death might take you until it almost does.
That day, my mindset my commitment to live, my preparation (thank you, mom and dad, for the water safety classes) saved me, my ability to keep calm (thank you sports training & meditation), to signal for help. Combined with Tantely’s knowledge of the beach and his ability to navigate the water, Tantely and I made my LUCK. I am LUCKY.
What is your personal recipe for success?
First, let’s talk about what goes into your recipe: the average human recipe for human satisfaction and contentment aka happiness or feelings of success is made up of the following:
Values: Stop Shoulding on Yourself
The first step is to clarify your values is to identify all the things you think you should do or that you feel that have to do. Too many times I’ve worked with women who came to me believing that they know what they value; however, after a few conversations it quickly enough it becomes apparent that their values extrinsically motivated versus intrinsically motivated.
When your motivation and values are extrinsic it is really easy to get tired, burned out or even depressed. We start to doubt ourselves and question our self worth. We feel really unlucky.
The Values Cure
Take five or ten or twenty minutes and write down a list of all the things in your life and around your career that you think you should do or that you have to do.
Now try and rephrase the “I shoulds” to “I values” and the “I have to’s” to “I can” or “I choose” happens. You may notice that a phrase that is easily written as a an “I should” suddenly becomes a “heck, no!” when you rephrase it to “I value.”
Now, head on over and do this exercise that implements Brene Brown’s list of Values. Once you complete this exercise, go back over your “I shoulds” and see what else you might change. Make a new list of the things you’d like to do in your life or that you need to do in your life and see how it feels to write only phrases that start with the following:
I get to…
I choose to…
I am grateful to…
and do the associated exercise on identifying what you value that I’ve created.
Recognize Your Strengths
Many times we underestimate ourselves when something comes to us naturally. Similarly, there are many things in our lives that we do or have, such as tendencies, habits, or solving particular types of problems that link right back into our natural strengths and talents.
When I work with career clients, I nearly always ask my clients to take the Gallup Strengths Finder test, which will give you your top 5 Strengths. Not only do these results give you insight into what you do well they also give you language to explain how and why you work the way you do.
The above link is an affiliate link to Amazon; however, I have no association with Gallup, only respect. If you do buy the book, make sure to purchase new or Kindle to get the online code for the test!
Read my personal Strengths Story.
A common mistake that women often make is to underplay and undervalue something that is easy for us, without ever considering that what’s easy for us may be extremely difficult for another person.
If you want to get ahead in your career and benefit from the confidence of a job done well, it’s vital that you own your strengths and that your professional narrative clearly highlights your strengths for your audience.
Buy the book (new or Kindle) to get a code that you can use to take the test online.
Needs are a HUGE issue for many women, from salary negotiation to time for ourselves to even doing the tasks we desire, we often put others’ needs before our own!
When it comes to deciding your career make a list of needs that covers topics like security (your income and benefits, for example), your personal care, your intellectual care, your spiritual or mindset care, your relationships, and your recreation.
A great tool for assessing where in our life we are meeting our needs and where in our life we might do better is called the Wheel of Life. There are several out there, but I like the 9 areas that show up on this wheel and exercise.
Once you’ve completed the Wheel of Life, set it aside and come back to this section on Goals and Direction.
To Make your Luck you need Goals/Direction
I’ve listed Goals and Direction after Values, Strengths, and Needs because to choose our path we need to understand what is important to us, what we are good at and what we need. From here it is easier to figure out which of our curiosities or passions connect us to our work and give us a sense of purpose or usefulness.
Indeed, the magic of luck is based on knowing where you want to go. Lucky people make their luck happen by being thoughtful about where they are going. How?
Synchronicity, Kismet and such show up because when we are aware of our direction and when the universe is too, suddenly the world seems to present” opportunities to us left and right. Most important in this little bit of “magic” however is the idea that we need to know where we are going, in order to identify those opportunities.
If you are one of those people who are terrified to set goals, because of a fear of failure or a fear that if you set a goal, you’ll be locked down and lose out on other “possibilities” let me help you see things through a different lens.
In reality, what happens when you set thoughtful goals that honor your values, use your strengths, and respect your needs, is that you create opportunities. Hope is in fact built on your ability to articulate what you want and how you hope to get it. If you can set a goal, you’ve got a vision, if you’ve got a vision you’ve got direction, and if you’ve got direction, you’ll be able to recognize and shake loose opportunities, you’ll be able to let the universe give you some luck.
It’s also important to note that goals are not like physical laws, you won’t be breaking anything or killing off anything by setting a goal. You can always choose to set a new goal if the one you pick doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped. The thing is, if you’ve set thoughtful goals, when you decide to set a new goal, you will be making your choice from a position of understanding and autonomy, versus feeling like a raft lost at sea.
Tell me Again What this Has to do with Luck?
Many times we think some people achieve their goals and their success through luck. We look these people up and down and say “I’ve got was she’s got,” I’ve got her brains, her education, I’ve even got MORE experience. She must be a SUCCESS because she is LUCKY.
Here’s a little evidenced based secret: the research shows that lucky people create their own luck. What she may have in excess of you is some little combination of self-confidence, goal setting and belief in her path.
At the most basic level, you cannot win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.
At the more advanced level, if you don’t know what you want if you don’t know where you are going, if you don’t have clearly defined goals, and a plan, you won’t know when you’ve won the jackpot.
Similarly, if everything you do goes against what you really want, perhaps in other people’s eyes you are a success, but in your own, you have failed.
Perspective is HUGE when it comes to luck.
Are you luckier than you think?
What could you do to be more intentional on your path and increase your luck?
The Elephant in the Living Room
Let me illustrate with a story of my grandmother. When I was growing up she had this magical brass elephant coffee table. I’d never seen anything like it and it was super uncommon in the little western farm town that my grandparents had settled in.
My grandmother also had lots of other elephants: pictures, knickknacks, glass elephants, coasters, you name it, she had it in “elephant.”
I loved elephants too and so one day, I asked what had made this gritty western lady who’d never even flown in an airplane or left the country, love elephants?
Her reply? I don’t.
Back in the 1950s, some friends had traveled to somewhere far away for business. They brought her back to this elephant coffee table. Grandmother graciously received the gift and put it in her living room. The table stood out so much that everyone noticed and everyone assumed she liked elephants.
And for the next 50 years, people gifted her elephants.
The Elephant and the Rider
I like this story for two reasons. Firstly, because it demonstrates that if we need our own professional narrative. If we don’t write and own our own story, other people will write a story for us. Second, because in positive psychology we talk about the “elephant and the rider.”
The elephant is our emotional brain, it is extremely strong, big and in fact wise, but it often lacks logic or doesn’t understand the world. Our logical brain is the rider. This rider sometimes does what it thinks is logical and overrides the wisdom of the elephant. Often when we feel anxiety or uncertainty, it’s because our elephant and our rider disagree on the direction we want to go.
When we are clear about our values, when we recognize our strengths, when we understand what we need, when we own our story, when we trust our gut (elephant) suddenly, our elephant and our rider start to work together instead of against each other. An elephant and a rider working in tandem can achieve pretty much whatever they want!
Getting Help When you are Stuck
Maybe this all sounds well and good, but are you still feeling stuck and having a heck of a time figuring out where you really stand or what you really want or need?
If this is the case, maybe it’s not just an issue of getting your elephant and your rider to work in harmony, maybe you first need to get unstuck from your glass bottle.
If you think about it for two seconds, you’ll see that it’s really hard (if not impossible) to read a label from inside the bottle.
If you’ve done the exercises, but you still find it difficult to piece together your values, your strengths, your needs and use them to set your direction or pick a goal, it may be that you are trying to read your own label from the inside.
Sometimes you need to figure out how to get on the other side.
Who can help you?
Your partner or best friend is a good starting point. You could do a 360 review of your strengths and talk through your values and wheel of life worksheets. At the sametime, sometimes, the people close to us are also some of the biggest influencers in our lives, which can make it a real challenge to determine what we actually value, need, feel, think versus what we’ve been told to think and feel.
This is where a career counselor, career coach or a life coach might help. Although each of us wears a slightly different hat, individuals trained in coaching believe that you’ve got the capacity to find your own answers, and we can help you by being your unbiased mirror. Working with a coach opens doors and windows because it lets you see inside your bottle and figure out what you really want and need.
So how does this all help you make the biggest mistake of your CAREER?
Depends on you and your particular goals and direction, but it can help you avoid a couple of major mistakes.
Not taking a job or not following your passion, because you are afraid it’s not inline with your values.
If your values are not aligned with your interests or passion, it’s most likely it’s not the values you’ve been told you SHOULD have; what you really truly value inside is most likely in alignment with what you are good at and what you enjoy.
Not taking a job or following your passion, because you are afraid it’s not a good job for a mom (even if you don’t intend to BE a mom for another decade).
From Prime Minister of New Zealand to Olympic Runner to whatever YOU choose to do, you can do it, do it well, and be a mom. All moms have to make choices and decide what they value; all mom’s need to learn to ask for help; all moms need to learn to be okay with “doing our best.”
Not following your passions or pursuing a goal, because you “are not ready” yet; you may never be “ready” so dive in, do the work, take the risk.
When surveyed near death, folks never regret what they’ve done; but they do regret what they didn’t do. What will you regret? DO IT.
My Favorite Personal Luck Story:
When I graduated from University at age 22, I wanted to join the Peace Corps, but I didn’t, primarily because I had a big student loan and I wanted to get it paid off. I’d been offered a job with a salary, benefits and a membership to a local health club, and so I thought I should take the job and work on my debt. Had I known it would take me 10 years to get it paid off, I would have joined the Peace Corps!
Finally, around the time I finally paid off my loan, I was already a stay at home mom, living in suburbia and wondering what had happened to my adventurous soul. As I started to crawl out of a depression, I decided to pursue a Masters In NonProfit Management and International NGOs.
I was now over 30 and I’d been in management roles, so I wanted to run an NGO, not just work in one, but it seemed like such a distant dream. I’d not worked in a nonprofit or an NGO (except serving on a board) for nearly 7+ years, so I started to volunteer, while going to class and learning as much as I could about the current state of affairs.
I found an NGO working in Haiti and doing community development work in accordance with my values and interests with an office 5 minutes from my house. I started to volunteer, helping with filing, recording donations and writing in the newsletter. Soon enough I had a course in fundraising and we had to write a financial resource development plan for our final project.
I dove in head first to write a complete 3-year development plan for this organization, interviewing board members, reviewing goals, and talking to other similar organizations working in Haiti. Little did I know that this particular NGO was in the midst of a restructure due to a few misfortunate incidents; and part of this restructure meant that the Executive Director under whom I was volunteering resigned.
Well, as LUCK would have it, the organization needed someone with a plan to keep them moving forward, and there I was with a detailed 3-year plan, so I got hired. From stay-at-home-mom to my dream job in less than 12 months.
Synchroncity? Kismet? Luck? Maybe, but I had to put in a lot of thought, hard work and intention, to make it happen. A perfect instance of making my own luck!
Recap: Values, Self-Awareness, Confidence, and Direction = a Recipe for Luck
Are you waiting for your big break, a sign from the stars or that Kismet moment?
I totally believe in synchronicity, it’s been a hugely powerful factor in my life; however, lucky, kismet moments can only show up if you already KNOW what you are looking for and if you put in the work to start moving in the direction you want to go.
If you don’t know what you want, how will you know it when it shows up?
Not only do you need to know what you want, but you also need to know what you value.
Sometimes life presents us with great opportunities (like my first salaried job) and we feel that we must say YES!, but here’s the thing, an opportunity might be good, it might be great, but if it’s not in line with your long-term goals (or if you don’t have a vision for your future) it’s quite possible this opportunity might draw you off your path.
So, now that you know your direction and understand how to make your own luck, can you answer the question, “am I ready?”
Of course. You are ready today.
What is one little thing you can do today to move you in the direction you want to go?
What are the 10 things you could do over the next few weeks to move you in the direction you want to go?
What is your 6-month plan? 3-year? Set that direction, make your luck and adjust course as needed knowing that you are living out your values, using your strengths, taking care of your needs and joyfully being your authentic self! Ready to make a change? You can reach out to me today, I’d love to give you a hand.
Craving inspiration? Read this list of 50 Powerful [American] Moms. You’ll note that even a few of them had babies while things like working, writing the Ph.D. at Stanford, and being CEOs.