As we begin our career journey, one of the lessons that we are not taught is how to own our career, how to take control of it. We are taught many lessons, but never that our career journey is ours to own and manage.
It took me a long time to really own my career journey, but once I took control of it, it has been an amazing, crazy, and rewarding career that has given me the highest of highs, the lowest of lows all with the feeling of joy and accomplishment.
As I have navigated my human resources career, I have learned how to own it, take control of it, and never release it. This has allowed me to thrive, even in disappointment because the decisions, risks, and opportunities that were created by my decisions were mine. I understood them and thus could adapt, change, and continue down my journey.
I live by five principles in owning your career, these have been with me for a while, and I refer to them at every pivot in my career. I hope this information will start you on your journey of career ownership.
The first step is to be honest with yourself about what you want for your career. Remember your career is not a job, it is a life journey, and you want to, to the best of your ability, guide that journey to the outcomes you are seeking. Your outcomes may change but you must first know yourself: What do you want out of your career? What do you want your career legacy to be? Different points along your career journey will alter your view, needs, desires and reveal things you never thought you could do. I want to leave a legacy that I helped people find their best career path while keeping their mental sanity, which is and will be my career legacy.
Do not leave or let the responsibility of your career journey be in anyone else’s hands, it is your career. Do not blame or point when things don’t work – rather adjust, adapt, learn and make the changes needed. I learned this in my own life when I was up for a prime promotion and did not get it. I was hurt and devastated because I prepared and everyone within the company told me it was mine. When I did not get it, I became angry and less focused, I had to work through my emotions and the disappointment. Once I got through those moments I reflected, asked questions, and then made my plans. I learned from the experience and invested my energy in finding an opportunity that was worthy of me. In the end, I decided to move to a place that was a better fit for me and what I needed. It was my responsibility to figure out and own what was best for me on my career journey and I did just that.
Your career journey at times can be a little scary, things do not always line up the way we think. We thought we found a good company only to discover it's not as good as we thought. We thought we found the perfect job with an amazing leader only to discover that it is the opposite and now we have another set of choices to make. Owning your career journey means having courage. The courage to do what is best for you and not be apologetic for it. It is your life; your career and you do not need to apologize for taking care of you. Courage doesn’t require making big steps, courage allows you to make smart small steps, steps that will get you to where you need to go. Maybe the first steps are to reach out to a few people and ask them to be your mentor or perhaps a first step is to learn a technical skill you don’t have. Small courageous steps will reward you with opportunities, it’s forward movement. Have the courage to trust yourself and your decisions and own them.
I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten an opportunity because a leader has told me “You exude a lot of confidence” at the same time being told “Andre, dim your light.” It can be confusing; however when it comes to your career journey, be confident that you can make it work. And if it does not work out, you can figure it out. Be confident in your decisions and if you make a wrong decision, you can learn from it to make better decisions in the future. Confidence is not the absence of humility; it is the understanding that I can navigate both good and bad times effectively.
One of the key elements to owning your career, is to forever be a learner of your craft – KNOW YOUR CRAFT. Learning allows you to grow, build confidence, and achieve. Your career is an ever-evolving, nonlinear path. Every point is a learning and growth opportunity for you, and you should take every advantage. Do not get caught up in performative things, but those opportunities that teach you and help you grow. I can tell you that after many years of doing human resources, I wake up every day with the mindset of what can I learn today and how will it grow me. I can also tell you because of that attitude I have become an effective and competent HR leader and professional. I believe this has led to my success and that mindset has prepared me for the journey my career has taken me.
There are many lessons to learn in owning your career and many paths to take. The path I’ve outlined above has been critical to my journey and success and has gotten me through both the ups and downs we all experience.
Remember your career is yours to own, not anyone else’s. Once I understood that, it became clear what I needed to do. I started with two simple phrases “I want to be a world class HR professional” and “I want my work to matter.” Over time, my phrases have shifted but remain simple: “I want to be a world class HR leader” and “How can I help others along their career journey?” Start simple and grow from there – you will find that you will have an amazing career for your lifetime.