Thinking beyond the next opportunity

There’s an exceptional event in Palo Alto I go to every fall. It’s called Speed Mentoring: I, along with other awesome mentors, offer the amazing women at Leading Women in Technology back-to-back 10-minute coaching sessions. Is it as intense as it sounds? Yes. And it’s seriously one of my favorite things to do.

But this isn’t an article about mentoring. (If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I’m a bit allergic to the word “mentor.”) What I want to share with you is the key career development idea I passed onto the women I met.

YOU NEED TO THINK BEYOND THE NEXT OPPORTUNITY TO THE ONE BEYOND IT.
TAKE AGENCY IN YOUR FUTURE.

@mollychoma // @thechairmanmom

Let me show you what I mean by that.

As each woman sat down, I whizzed past the hellos. “So, how can I help?” I asked.

“Should I quit my job, and if I do, will the next thing I do be the right one?” most of the women replied.

The reason for wanting to quit was almost always their boss, not the company. With the 10-minute deadline looming, I couldn’t properly evaluate their unique situations. So I took a different tact: I led the women through a quick visualization exercise.

Would you like to walk through it, too? Then go on and pretend, for just a moment, that you’re sitting across the table from me. I’m your Fairy Godmother. I have a magic wand, sparkles, everything. (Yes, I look fabulous.)

With the whirl of my wand, we’re going to bounce three years into the future. Now that’s not the magic part; that’s just time travel. The magic is that every decision you’ve made over the last three years has been exactly right. Can you see yourself?

Now tell me, what kind of work are you doing?

Take a minute and paint that picture in your mind.

Wonderful. Let’s think about what skills and experiences you’ll need to land that role. Make them into a list.

Can you learn these things in your current role? And if so, who controls access to the skill-building opportunities — you or your manager?

And if you’re still sure you need to quit your job to learn, does the next opportunity you have in mind offer learning opportunities for what’s on your list? Or are you just trying to get away from someone you don’t particularly like?

Back at Speed Mentoring, for some women, the answer was clear. For others, not so much.

Remember what I said in the beginning? If you’re in a dilemma over quitting or staying, or you’re struggling to decide whether the next role is right for you, you need to think beyond the next opportunity to the one after it to find your answer.

The bottom line is this. Your career path is yours to create — no one else’s. You can let circumstances (aka a bad boss) send you down a path you hadn’t planned on taking, or you can take agency over your direction and make your own way.

Once I said yes to a role knowing my new boss was going to be challenging. Why? It’s true, my boss wasn’t always kind to me. But I learned and experienced the things I wanted to, met my need for “nice” in other areas of the organization, and most importantly, I got to keep moving in the direction I’d wanted to go.

And I’ll let you in on this secret:

If you’re carving your own path, you’re never wrong. Every stepping stone is leading you in the direction of your ideal picture. You don’t need a fairy godmother to wave a wand to make your fantastic three-year future come true.

You know why? Because you’ve had the ability to make the right decisions all along.

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