So many of the conversations I have with junior- and mid-level talent revolves around how idle they feel their career trajectory is. So, I ask them a lot of self-reporting questions around this:
- What projects have you taken on that are stretch-assignments for you?
- Did you ask for this assignment or was it given to you?
- What is your understanding as to why you were selected?
- Were you given meaning & purpose as to how this assignment fits in with the organizational or departmental strategy?
- How do you – typically – go above and beyond your job description?
- Tell me about the last time you did and what was the reaction by your peers and the person you report to when you presented the results?
- When is the last time you had a conversation about your career path with the person you report to?
- Who initiated that conversation?
- What was the result?
- What would you elevate about your performance or competencies today based on your assessment of your performance?
- Tell me about the person you report to?
- What are the qualities you most admire in this person?
- What are the qualities you least admire in this person?
- Do you feel supported by this person?
- Are your skills being fully utilized?
- Do you feel you get ample one-on-one time with them?
- Are they actively involved in and supportive of your career journey?
If I am conservatively estimating, I would say 60-70% of these dialogs get caught up on the first two bullet points. Out of every ten people that I have this type of conversation with, six or seven cannot articulate how they have shown that they are interested in growth, they are unable to effectively communicate their interest, or how they go above and beyond the most basic functions of their roles to stand out and show they want more. I ask them, if they aren’t ambitious and excited around their career path, how can they expect anyone else to be? I rarely receive a response.
If they expect to get promoted or recognized for simply doing the bare minimum – holy cow…are they in for a rude awakening in most workplaces. This is when I usually talk about choices and making the right ones to ensure they are controlling their path and have people around them who will – in turn – make the choice to support them. We all have a choice in how we present ourselves to others. We can choose to be excellent – to stand out from the masses – to be known for being innovative, collaborative, productive, proactive, and contribute to the culture in a positive way. Or we can choose to be mediocre, bland, and forgettable – employing the ever-popular and failing strategy of hope to their lives. Every person has the power to design and build their own reputation based on choices they make.
IDENTIFY THE PRIMARY INTENTION OF ALL CHOICES YOU MAKE
Each day we are confronted with a barrage of choices. We make choices about what to wear, the food and snacks we consume, the appointments we schedule and keep, the time we show up at work [and how we “show up” to work], which train we catch, who we engage with and the strangers we meet, what we do after work, etc.. Creating a rich and satisfying life filled with a sense of accomplishment and pride means making good and healthy choices on a consistent basis.
So, what is a good choice? Good choices are decisions that keep you hyper-focused on and driven towards your specific personal and professional goals. Bad choices are counterproductive to accomplishment and can quickly undermine your existence into one filled with distress, confusion, and chaos, or – almost worse – nothingness.
Some of the challenges that exist around choosing ‘smart-choice-making’ arises with options that may be attractive in the moment | short-term but may incrementally steer us away from our ultimate goals. For example, thinking you can procrastinate one more day on a project or you’ll be okay if you deliver “good enough” results “just this once” in business levers or an assignment can be considered bad choices. Conversely, some decisions that are considered either provocative, difficult, or miserable in the moment can result in better direction in the long term.
The most fundamental consideration with choice-making is to ensure the choices you make are consistently congruent and complementary with the important objectives you have. If you have a long-term personal or professional goal of building a successful career and one day being your own boss, then making decisions to work within the status quo and deliver mediocrity will likely undermine this goal and later lead to misery and disappointment regardless of how good, easy, and/or safe it feels today.
Truly understanding the dynamics and impacts of choices can help improve the decisions that you make. For the most part, any choice involves at least two options, both of which have pros and cons associated with them. It might seem, at first, that one of the options doesn’t have many things going for it at all but the very fact that you have hesitated before pursuing one course of action over the other suggests that not everything is black and white in your mind. Taking a moment to reflect on that aspect of your inclinations and orientations that made you pause can help you understand the situation more clearly. Being cognizant of this perspective will allow you to make a better-informed decision. And accepting of the consequence(s) or result(s) of your choices.
Choice making is an indispensable part of our daily lives. Ordinarily, we make decisions naturally, efficiently, and quickly. However, every so often, we face a moment with a decision that gives us multiple viable options. When that occurs, weigh the merits of both options and notice the higher-valued goals that appear as you’re considering the choice you need to make. Which one is more aligned with your objectives? Which one will benefit your professional agenda and that of your colleagues? Which one will support your reputation? Once the highest goal is in view your decision will be clear and you’ll know that the path you’re about to take is consistent and compatible with all that it means to be you.
IDEAS ON HOW TO MAKE BETTER CHOICES
Each and every day, whether we like it or not, we have to make choices for our future selves, our heath, happiness, and security. Whether it’s about where you’ll be living next year or staying at a job you don’t love, making tough decisions is something that is going to happen.
HAVE A CLEAR VISION OF WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE: When you’re profoundly aware of what you want out of your life, you are able to make better choices. According to David Welch, PhD, professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo in Ontario said, “People who aren’t self-reflective are going to end up making bad decisions because they don’t really know what they want in the first place.” When I make a decision, I think ahead to the next six months to a year about how this is will impact my goals. Is this the direction I need or want to go? If the answer is against what I’m working towards, then I will change my decision, even if that means taking the more challenging, and sometimes cumbersome, route.
ASK FOR GUIDANCE, BUT OWN YOUR CHOICE: Whether we are making a decision about a relationship, our job, or our well-being, every decision you’ll make includes one common factor: YOU! No one else is living your life. No one will understand what your day-to-day is like and what your intuition and instincts are telling you. You have context for all options of a choice you need to make. However, in most cases it can be helpful to ask for a mentor or friend’s perspective. According to the fabulous Dr. Travis Bradberry, the most successful people often seek outside counsel. “Their perspectives help you weigh your options more objectively and to spot your subjective or irrational tendencies.“. Remember though: Guidance is just that – guidance. While it’s great to get help from others, not listening to, or trusting, your own intuition might steer your life in a less empowering direction. It will also make us more inclined to assign blame if WE choose the wrong choice.
FOCUS ON GENERATING CREATIVE ALTERNATIVES: The wider the range of options you can surface and explore, the better, more informed your final decision is likely to be. Generating a number of innovative and – mostly – viable options may seem to make things more complicated, but coming up with alternatives forces you to go deeper and look at the problem from different points of view. Stepping outside your normal patterns of thinking and leaning into one that may be more uncomfortable but possibly the right one – will support your decision making with some truly brilliant solutions and directions.
LEARN TO TRUST YOURSELF: Never be afraid to trust your intuition as a form of intelligence. Cynthia Wall, LCSW, a psychotherapist explained in her book, The Courage to Trust: A Guide to Building Deep and Lasting Relationships, “The person you need to trust first is yourself. No one can be as consistently supportive of you as you can learn to be. Being kind to yourself increases self-confidence and lessens your need for approval. Loving and caring for yourself not only increases self-trust, it also deepens your connection with others.” Having the confidence to trust yourself is sometimes easier said than done, but once you develop more confidence in yourself, you may feel better and less anxious about making choices for yourself that support your immediate and long-term plans and goals.
PRACTICE CONSCIOUS CHOICE-MAKING: The only way you’re going to get stronger, build self-trust, and sharpen your choice-making skills is by practicing making decisions every single day. If you start practice conscious choice-making a part of your daily routine, you may feel more confidence around your actions and decision-making skills. According to Abigail Brenner, M.D., psychiatrist and author stated, “Learning how to make good choices and wise decisions depends upon several factors: a person’s developmental stage/age, having a general idea of right and wrong… understanding what the decision-making process entails, and practice!” It might feel awkward and slightly distressing at first, but try making all decisions in your life for a week [without asking others for advice or help – eek, I know!]. You will – likely – find that you can make some pretty fantastic, self-propelling choices around your career and personal paths.
EMBRACE OBJECTIVITY: Before you begin to weighing your choices, make sure you fully understand the situation. It is unlikely that your objective can be approached in solitude, but it’s more likely that there are a number of analogous factors that need to be considered. Every choice comes at a cost, so look at things objectively – considering all consequences and results and test your ideas with others to invite guidance and extract emotion from your final choice.
FRAME YOUR CHOICES: Ask yourself if you will be pleased with your decision twelve minutes from now, twelve weeks from now, twelve months from now. This strategy makes you consider the short-term, mid-term and long-term consequences, along with the value and benefits of your choices, that accompany your final decision. When you apply this technique consistently, it will help you become more fluent in your decision making.
The path of our lives is determined largely by the choices and decisions we make, always make sure yours are confident and clear and aligned with your targets.