How To Tell Your Career Story When You're Shifting Industries

The other day we were thinking about a friend of ours who's led an exciting and varied career. She was a published geneticist from an esteemed university who then became a producer and ran digital strategy for an entertainment company, and is now an entrepreneur, founder of a B2B and B2C social media strategy agency, and a highly sought-after speaker.

Impressive, right?

We all know those folks with non-linear careers, who seem to move effortlessly from industry to industry. Perhaps you'd like to be one of those people someday. Or maybe, after years working in the same field, you've finally decided to take a leap into an entirely different world, but are struggling with the idea of piecing together your diverse experience.

How can you tell your career story when you're shifting industries?

Here are a few suggestions:

Sell your destiny, not your history.

In transforming your career, it's easy to get stuck in your old thought patterns. When speaking with others about your work history, you might be tempted to state everything you've ever done, fearful of letting go of your past experience. The problem? If something isn't relevant, it's muddying your message and will confuse— or lose—your intended audience. Instead, let clarity be your friend and be ruthless about pairing down your profiles to support what you want to do, not what you've done.

Can't seem to part with a past role? Another strategy is to...

Identify your common thread(s).

Even if you've had seemingly unrelated jobs in vastly different industries, you can always find a common thread (or two) that weaves together your personal and professional experiences. Also, consider your transferable skills that transcend industry or job junction. Perhaps you were the go-to person who introduced new products and services in your roles in the finance, consumer electronics, and packaged goods industries? Or maybe your scientific roots fostered a love of research, digging for answers and solutions to help bring greater operational efficiency to various sectors?

Think beyond titles to see a natural progression of responsibilities and roles, especially as it relates to your new industry, to help connect the dots for those new folks you're looking to be hired by or partner.

Finally, learn from the masters of non-linear career management and...

Think like a thought leader.

The savviest thought leaders stick to two fundamental personal branding concepts in telling their career stories: consistency and discipline.

Consistency means that you that you maintain your "voice" and look and feel in all your communications. So much so, that people come to expect—and anticipate—your specific point of view and unique perspective. For instance, if someone were to read your LinkedIn profile and then meet you at a networking mixer, there should be absolutely no surprises.

Discipline means that you stick with those few areas where you have expertise, and avoid veering off course in your messaging or audience or platform. It means saying no to the things that do not align with your desired career brand and its offerings—even if they were previously part of your work history.

Rather than view consistency and discipline as constraints, allow them to empower you to create and fuel your new career story.

Everyone has a unique story, but not everyone leverages its power. Properly crafted, your story helps to differentiate you from your competitors, highlight your value, and to draw others to you. Knowing and being able to clearly articulate your career story—especially as you're shifting industries—is transformative; use it wisely.

To better tell your career story, join our Who Am I program.

If You Want To Change Your Life, Change Your Environment

There's a reason why a tree's leaves change color in fall—it's a visual signal that it's adapting to its surroundings, prepping for what's ahead.

Imagine if you had the same degree of connectedness to your own career climate? What corrections would you consciously make to optimize your growth and prepare for a successful future?

It starts with awareness and acceptance of a simple truth: Your environment always wins.

Your environment, which includes your friends, colleagues, location, habits and lifestyle, impacts you far more—for better or for worse—than you realize. You can’t make a significant, lasting change without altering some elements of your environment. 

Ask yourself these two questions to better assess if your environment is helping you grow or holding you back:

Who Is In My Top Five?

Jim Rohn, an early mentor to Tony Robbins, famously said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend time with.”

Rohn’s assertion was rooted in the law of averages, which is the theory that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes, and suggests that the five people you’re around the most shape you.

Said another way, when you’re trying to grow into the person you hope to be, it’s helpful to surround yourself with people who demonstrate those qualities you aspire to achieve. These people might include mentors from whom you can learn new skills, colleagues who cheer you on when you get discouraged, or friends who hold you accountable to your goals. Having in your "top five" positive, encouraging people who lift you up and support your dreams will dramatically improve your chances for success.

Conversely, if your environment contains negative people threatened by your choices, you’ll have a much harder time trying to make — let alone maintain—significant change.

Do the people around you support your destiny and not just your history?  If not, it might be time to widen your circle and proactively seek new energy from like-minded souls.

Where Do I Hang Out And What Do I Do While There?

The same principle applies to all aspects of your environment; it’s not just the who, but also the what, that you surround yourself with that can either propel you forward…or hold you back.


Where are the top five places where you spend your time? For most, this includes an office and home base, as well as additional locales: commuting in your car or on the train; the gym or a bar; networking events or your sofa; walking through a park or surfing the internet.

No place is inherently good or bad, but you should pay attention to how you feel while you're within those spots, and note if that feeling changes when you leave them. Are you motivated or drained? If it's the latter, and you want to make progress, something's gotta give; it's time to make a change.

Consider, too, your habits and lifestyle: are you intentionally placing yourself in situations and locations that spark growth? Or have you fallen (perhaps unconsciously, out of fear) into a stagnant comfort zone of the familiar but uninspiring?

Real growth happens when we understand whom and what best supports what we want, and then align ourselves with those people and places that do.

To change your environment, join our Who Am I program.

Make A Choice To Take A Chance Or Your Life Will Never Change

Last week, as we moved our eldest daughter into her out-of-state college dorm room, it occurred to me that her life was about to change.

After countless hours of hard work, test preparation and college applications, our girl was about to embark on the most significant growth journey of her life. And I couldn't be more excited for her.

Of course, none of this would have been possible had she not decided to swing for the fences, putting herself out there.

Sadly, as adults, we often get to a point in our careers where we stop pushing ourselves. We plateau and settle for less, incorrectly believing our time for growth has passed and that it's too late.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Zig Zigler famously said:

There are three Cs in life: choice, chance, change. You must make a choice to take a chance, or your life will never change.

If you'd like to make career progress, (and really, who doesn't want that?), let's break down each of those three elements:

Choice

Choice is all about shifting your mindset. It can be tempting to ride that wave of familiarity, especially if everything in your career is going well. But at some point—and maybe you've already experienced it—you'll decide that good isn't good enough. Perhaps you have a gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach telling you something needs to give. You want something more, something different, something new, even if you're not sure what that is.

Rather than feel guilty about this, it's helpful to think about change in positive terms. When you make a conscious choice to do something, you're taking the first step toward growth. Action is empowering and contagious; inaction breeds stagnation.

Chance

Have you been hemming and hawing about taking a leap of faith? Harboring some fear about the unknown is understandable, but don't let it paralyze you. Challenging yourself to leave your comfort zone helps you stretch your wings and gain new skills, experience, and confidence. You could:

  • Muster up your courage to take on that challenging new assignment

  • Volunteer to lead a lunch and learn for your department

  • Offer to put together (or deliver) that new business pitch for your boss

Still unsure about taking a chance? Ask yourself if what you're doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow. As hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

Change

Change sometimes gets a bad rap, because it's often viewed as a disruptor. When one thing changes, others usually follow suit. But if you flip that around, you'll see that change is the antithesis to the status quo. Change shakes things up and breathes new life into old methods and routines. We're forced to get out of ruts we may not know we've been in, to view things differently with a fresh perspective. It's about envisioning what's possible, not just what is.

That said, change requires a degree of focus and intentionality. If you're seeking a true transformation, clarity is key. When you know what you want, you'll better be able to map out a plan to get it. And when you can articulate it, you can enlist the help of others to achieve it.

Here's the thing about change: if you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done. And it's not too late.

Remember, it starts with a choice; choose wisely.

Make a choice to change your life by joining our Who Am I program.

To Find Your Ikigai, Grow Your Abilities

According to Psychology Today, back in 2008 Toshimasa Sone and colleagues at Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine concluded a seven-year longitudinal study of 43,000+ Japanese adults. "The researchers found that individuals who believed that their life was worth living were less likely to die than were their counterparts without this belief."

The Japanese word for this sense of purpose is ikigai. It means believing that your life is worth living. Google the word, and you're likely to find an image that looks like this:

Ikigai LI red center.jpeg

Here's how Psychology Today summarized the researchers' results. "95% of respondents who reported a sense of meaning in their lives were alive seven years after the initial survey versus about 83% of those who reported no sense of meaning in their lives."

Now imagine that you are one of those fortunate professionals who believe that your abilities are not fixed. That is, with effort, you can grow your abilities. Here's my picture of what that means:

Ikigai LI red center growth.jpeg

The yellow represents the growth in your "What You Do Well" circle. Through persistent effort, it gets bigger. As it gets bigger, the potential overlap increases between your best abilities and the other three circles.

To put this simply, you get more ikigai.

Can I prove that doing this will extend your life? 

No.

But would I take that bet?

Yes.

Here's the deal. You can't control whether a volcano will erupt in your backyard, or whether your boss will suddenly decide to hire his daughter and fire you.

But you can control the amount of effort you invest in expanding your skills, growing your experience, and opening your mind. All of these are likely to deepen your appreciation of your life and the role you play in our world.

May you enjoy more ikigai with each passing year.

To grow your abilities, join our Who Am I program.

Photo credit: chibitom/Flickr

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted Is Sitting On The Other Side Of Fear

One of our favorite quotes from George Addair states:

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear.”

Consider that for a moment: to get what you want you just need to get past your fear. We can hear some of you now: “Fear? I’m not scared.”

But if you’ve had trouble progressing in your career, we beg to differ.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It often masquerades as a cloak of protection, keeping us from doing things that may cause us harm. But sometimes, the real damage comes from the inaction that fear enables.

We avoid at all costs those things that make us uncomfortable, but there is no growth in the status quo. Sooner or later, that caution and those fears that prevent you from getting hurt or put on the spot, stagnate you.

Here are some sneaky ways fear halts your progress:

YOUR HEAD IS FULL OF NEGATIVE SELF-TALK

Somewhere along the way, out of fear of ridicule or rejection, you started to tell yourself that it was okay not to go after what you wanted. You fill your head with negative stories that prevent you from learning, growing, and stretching your wings. You say things like, I'm not good enough, I'm not ready, or I'm just a __________ (whatever you are now), not a _________ (whatever you'd like to be).

Self-sabotaging talk can be a dream killer and a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a vicious cycle. It plants seeds of doubt, so we start to retreat and succumb to the negative stories echoing in our heads.

“________ IS HOLDING ME BACK”

You’d be able to achieve your goals if only (fill in the blank) wasn’t holding you back, right?

It’s far easier to blame others for your lack of growth than it is to step out of your comfort zone.

The truth is that the things that prevent you from growing are not external; they are internal. It's easy to think that other forces — your boss, the economy, or bad luck — block your path. Not true.

YOU’VE FALLEN INTO THE TRAP OF ‘GOOD ENOUGH’

You’re gainfully employed and have supportive friends and family. You have a good life. So good, in fact, that you should be grateful. You should be happy. You should feel guilty for wanting something different when so many would kill to be in your shoes.

You end up “should-ing” all over yourself.

You convince yourself that rocking the boat would upset everyone around you, and who wants that? Rather than go after your dreams, you settle for good enough.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, fear has reared its ugly head.

The good news? Once you’ve acknowledged that fear exists, you can take measures to address and disarm it.

IF YOU WANT A Better Life and career, YOU HAVE TO CHANGE THE STORIES YOU TELL YOURSELF.

Words have power, especially the ones you say — or don't say — to yourself. By replacing self-sabotaging talk with self-affirming talk, you’ll abandon limiting beliefs and adopt a growth-focused mindset. This doesn’t mean that you‘ll transform overnight, but it will create a more welcoming environment for positive change.

THE ONLY ONE WHO’S HOLDING YOU BACK IS YOU

Until you take responsibility for your own growth journey, everything will remain the same. To make positive change, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. You need to muster the courage to acknowledge and tackle your hidden fears. By doing so, you’ll get out of your own way, gain traction and go after your goals.

REALIZE THAT ‘GOOD ENOUGH’ RARELY IS

It is hardest to admit what you most want in the world, and so very easy to settle for something short of that “risky” path. Lose the fear and guilt about going after what’s missing, and start to explore. A healthy curiosity is often the best educator, as it leads to new opportunities and experiences.

As we’re fond of saying, your dreams and fears are neighbors; this is one instance where you’ll want to get to know both.

To conquer your fears, join our Who Am I program.

Are Your Climbing The Right Mountain?

It's a sad story... for 27 years, Dan climbed The Mountain of Power. Three months after summiting—that is, becoming CEO—he had a heart attack and died. His wife said at his funeral, "Ironically, Dan was happiest when he stepped away from his quest and spent time with his children and friends. He was most miserable the closer he came to power. But he could never shake the habit of seeking power."

Dan was climbing the wrong mountain. He was pursuing his purpose—his ikigai, or reason for being—in an ineffective manner.

To respect confidences, all the names and specific examples in this story are fictional, but they are based on the type of misguided careers that happen with heartbreaking frequency.

Our intention today is pretty simple: to provide you with a touchstone you can use to test your own goals and actions. This is a path to your ikigai.

At heart, Sarah is an artist. She spent ten years climbing the Mountain of Perfection, trying to master the medium of fluid painting. During this period, Sarah was her own toughest critic, never satisfied with her work and always reluctant to A.) offer it for sale, or B.) charge high enough prices to support even her minimal needs.

Over time, she began to support and encourage other artists. When she finally worked up the courage to sell her works at summer art fairs, she always brought a few pieces created by her friends. It was far easier for her to promote and sell these other works, which she did so effectively that friends gave her more and more artworks to display.

Three years ago, Sarah opened an art gallery, then a second location. She has never been happier or more gratified. Now she is climbing the Mountain of Artistic Fellowship, and she paints for her own personal pleasure.

It is so easy to accidentally climb the wrong mountain. Many of us never pause long enough to consider what matters most to us, or to think about the implications of our decisions. "My father was an attorney," a newly-minted lawyer might confess. "I have a mind like his. It never occurred to me that the practice of law could leave me feeling empty and alone, as though I was living someone else's life."

Here's the thing about climbing the wrong mountain: for years and years, it can feel like you are being so productive and effective. You reach milestones that required years of grit and growth to achieve. You get promoted. You make more money. Friends and neighbors are impressed. Hell, you might even be impressed.

But when you get to the top—and when you start to gaze at another peak with a sense of longing—you are further than ever from your true path.

External metrics won't reveal whether you should be climbing the Mountain of Wealth versus the Mountain of Compassion. To find the answer, you must look inside yourself.

Can we give you a simple five-step system for doing this? Nope.

No, our gift to you today is far simpler... and more effective. It is the thought that you can decide which mountain to climb over the course of your career and life. It is the realization that you have far more latitude to make such a decision than you may realize. You are not stuck in the middle between financial and family obligations. You are not too late in your career to make a change. You are not forced to be "practical" or "realistic" instead of focused on what your heart and soul and brain is telling you.

To decide which mountain to climb, join our Who Am I program.

You Are Something Specific to a Special Few

Years ago at a conference, a speaker said eight words that made such an impact on me that I still have them taped to my office wall:

You are something specific to a special few.

His point was that having clarity—about yourself, your ikigai, and your intended audiences—was the key to success.

The same principle applies when you're trying to make a significant career change. Let's break down that statement:

You...

Clarity begins with your ability to answer a simple question: “What do I want?”

Though simple, that question isn’t easy for most to answer. Some wrestle with insecurities and fears about coming to grips with their true desires; others have never pushed the pause button on their busy lives to give themselves space to do so.

It takes thoughtful introspection, and sometimes, a reality check: do you really want (fill in the blank) and are you willing to do what it takes to achieve it? Make sure that your reply isn't merely a grass-is-always-greener scenario, but a genuine desire for which you're willing to work.

It’s likely that your answer will be different from your friends’ or co-workers’, and that’s okay: this is about being crystal clear with what is of the utmost importance to YOU.

...Are Something Specific...

Clarity demands specificity: there is no room for a wishy-washy answer.

For instance, it's not enough to say that you want to "work with people." Instead, dig deeper to figure out what elements of working with people you most enjoy. Would you rather work with high school students or senior executives? Do you like to interact with people one-on-one or as part of a larger team? Would you prefer a stable company environment or a fast-paced start-up?

The more focused you can be about what matters most to you, the better.

...To A Special Few

Once you figure out what you want, you need to be able to explain it to others—those "special few" who can help you.

Most people are willing to assist you if you're clear on your ask: can they make an introduction to a colleague in your desired field? Provide intel on a prospective company? If you’re fuzzy about what you want, you’ll confuse them and spin your wheels.

Your "special few" also includes those who might hire you, so being able to articulate what you want is crucial to achieving it.

For instance, on social media sites like LinkedIn, that means paring down all the extraneous information from your profile (yes, really—edit away!) to highlight what matters most, aligning your experience to support your desires, and consistently creating or sharing content related to those things that matter most to you. You need to say what you want, not what you do.

It also means viewing your profile through the lens of your intended audiences. If a potential employer, client or partner were to read it, would they immediately understand how you were uniquely qualified and positioned to help them get what they want? Doing so makes it easier for others to see your value.

Remember, your aim is not to try to be all things to all people, but to be something specific to a special few—including yourself.

And clarity is the key to achieving it.

To gain clarity, join our Who Am I program.

Ikigai And Employee Engagement

First, the bad news. Employee engagement is shockingly low. Here are some statistics :

  • 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs (Gallup)

  • Among millennials who worked at 5-7 organizations, 34% didn’t trust their direct manager, 31% said their organizations don’t set goals, and 48% said their organization thought only about profits (O.C. Tanner)

  • 12% of businesses are happy with current levels of employee engagement (CBI)

We’d like to suggest that there’s a simple reason for these abysmal numbers: most employers don’t see their employees as people. That is, they don’t see the human spirit first; their policies and practices unintentionally reduce human beings to the level of interchangeable cogs.

Ikigai offers a way out of this trap. The concept suggests that every person has a unique reason for being. Lonnie Mayne, creator of the Red Shoes Living philosophy, puts it more simply. “Every person has their own story. The more you understand and honor this story, the more engaged that person will be.”

This doesn’t mean that employers should coddle their employees. It just means that by understanding what is most important to the individuals on your team, you can bring out their best.

To find your ikigai, join our Who Am I program.

Focus On Your Eulogy, Not Your Resume

A few years ago, David Brooks wrote an eloquent piece, The Moral Bucket List, in which he made the case that there are resume virtues and eulogy virtues; the former are skills you sell, while the latter are those that your family, friends and colleagues celebrate at your funeral.

Few of us want to be praised at our funeral as a "darn good product manager," but most of us lead our lives as though that outcome would be good enough.

My headline may be a bit inaccurate. The question isn't what will others say at your funeral? It's...

Where should I focus my efforts, for all my remaining days?

David's piece outlined six ways that some make the leap to eulogy virtues. In truth, all seemed a bit intimidating to me. It occurred to me that I could share a simpler formula for acquiring eulogy virtues. I didn't invent it, but rather pieced it together from the work of others. 

1.) Growth: You start by recognizing what Carol Dweck wrote about in Mindset, which is that people with a growth mindset tend to outperform those with a fixed mindset. That is, if you think your abilities are fixed, you won’t do as well as people who believe that with enough effort, they can expand their capabilities.

But it's not enough to simply understand this. Doing so won't change the quality of your life.

You have to.. make growth your #1 goal, in both your career and personal life.

To be clear, if you embrace this mindset, your number one goal will no longer be "become a CEO" or "take my startup public." It will be growth as a long-term, unrelenting goal.

Once you adopt this mindset, you will never be content to plateau.

2.) Grit: Next, you apply grit behind your long-term goal of growth.

As University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor Angela Duckworth explains, grit is “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”

Duckworth, like Dweck, believes that effort is more important than talent. Her research suggests that the longer the time period you consider, the greater the advantage of effort over talent.

For example, if you are betting on a impromptu race between two teenagers on a football field, bet on talent. But if you are betting on which teenager will have the most rewarding life, bet on effort.

3.) Giving: Focus on the needs of other people, not just on your own needs. As Adam Grant - also at UPenn - pointed out in Give and Take, the most successful professionals in the world have a giving mindset; they are primarily focused on the needs of others.

A giving mindset brings purpose to your life. It gives your life a massive nudge in the direction of eulogy virtues. It is what transforms a great career into a stellar life.

I'd argue that a giving mindset is both altruistic and selfish. On the one hand, it vastly increases the odds that you will help others and make our world a significantly better place. On the other, helping others has a way of coming back your way with numerous personal and career benefits. I can't fully explain how this works, but have experienced firsthand that this is true.

To increase your growth, grit and giving, join our Who Am I program.

Discover Your Reason For Being By Following Your Flow

This post took me 26 minutes to write; I timed it and am writing this sentence last. Why did it go so fast?

It's Monday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend, a holiday in the United States. I've spent the weekend researching overlaps between ikigai—the Japanese term for "reason for being"—and the flow state, which some call "being in the zone."

Why did I work all weekend? Did a client make me? Not at all. My purpose is helping other people find their purpose, so my whole weekend felt like play.

Few things excite me like finding an idea that other people can use to great effect. In this case, asking a simple question can lead you to a life elevated with purpose and meaning:

When have I experienced flow?

Flow is what happens when time seems to stand still. You are operating at your very best, 100% focused on what you are doing, and utterly enjoying yourself... even if what you are doing is especially challenging. In reality, flow often comes as a direct result of challenging yourself.

True confession: I cheated slightly. In reality, I want you to ask the same question four times, with only a slight variation:

  • When have you been in the zone because you so much loved what you were doing?

  • When have you been in the zone because you were so good at something?

  • When have you been in the zone because you were helping others in such a meaningful manner?

  • When have you been in the zone because it was so effortless to make money?

In the Zone IPC LI.png

I'd like to suggest that the presence of the flow state is a wonderful clue that you are doing something you are meant to do. It is nearly impossible to achieve flow when doing something you hate. You might think of flow as an extremely helpful sign leading you towards ikigai (represented by that white circle in the center, where the other four elements overlap).

Starting at the top left and moving clockwise, the circles represent:

  • Your passions

  • Your strengths

  • What others will pay you to do

  • What others need

Finding your ikigai and shifting your career to focus on it is more complicated than this, but following your flow is a wonderful way to begin the process.

To discover your reason for being, join our Who Am I program.

Photo credit: Dick Sijtsma/Flickr