Someone recently asked whether I can tell who will be successful in their career change. What attributes do successful people share? Why are some people more successful than others?
I’ve worked with people from all walks of life with aspirations of various shapes and sizes. Their backgrounds and goals vary, yet people who achieve audacious career goals share this: they have a big vision and trust their ability to make it happen.
For me, there are three essential ingredients to career success:
Success = Believing you can exponentially improve your life + Trusting this even when you don’t believe + Loving your life as it is in the meantime
Ingredient #1 - Believing you can exponentially improve your life
If you don’t believe in your ability to make changes, nothing else matters.
Not resumes or LinkedIn. Not interviewing or branding. Not networking or negotiation.
Without the internal belief that you have the power to create change, it’s going to be really challenging to do so.
If you don’t believe you can make it, how do you expect to convince anyone else?
People who believe figure things out. They know problems have solutions. They’re okay with some unpleasantness if that’s what it takes to get to the good stuff.
Ingredient #2 - Trusting when you don’t believe
There will be times when you don’t believe. When your commitment is challenged. Sometimes repeatedly. In spectacularly crap-tastic ways.
The smart money is not on people who claim they’re fearless. I’d never get in a moving vehicle with them let alone tag along on their career journey.
The people who succeed are the ones who are scared but do it anyway. They doubt, then push through it. They feel the feelings and follow their intuition.
They have faith that their overarching belief (ingredient #1) will guide them.
It’s easy to believe when things are going well. It takes strength to trust when they’re not.
Ingredient #3 - Loving your life as it is in the meantime
While some people succeed without loving life, it sure makes things harder. It also begs the question of whether they’ll be happy once they reach their goal.
If you’re pinning your happiness to a new career (or promotion or raise or degree), brace yourself.
The overwhelming research supports happiness —> career success, not the other way around.
Loving your life as it is doesn’t mean you’re complacent. You believe in your ability to make things exponentially better, remember? It just means you’re not self-flagellating yourself daily for not being there yet.
Let’s talk about how to get there more quickly.
What lies beneath
Repeat after me, the core of every single thing we do (or don’t) is based on this premise:
Our thoughts —> our feelings —> our actions
Repeated actions become habits, which create our world view, which reinforces our thoughts and feelings.
Detect a pattern here?
If you hit a roadblock and say, “Here we go again. I know exactly how this story is going to end,” you allow yourself to be swept up in the narrative. You’re essentially saying, “I feel powerless to change this. Might as well submit to the tides of circumstance.”
How likely are you to take meaningful action when you’re feeling powerless?
Ask the nearly 60% of US voters that stay home during mid-term elections.
Our thoughts —> our feelings —> our actions
Let’s reframe our “here we go again” narrative to something more empowering like, “I’ve seen this situation before. Here’s what I know now and what I’m going to do differently.” Totally different energy.
Get underneath these thoughts to the underlying beliefs. This takes work. These beliefs are deeply ingrained, often learned at a young age. But once you identify the thoughts, it’s much easier to change them.
Career change isn’t easy but it doesn’t need to be so hard
Let’s look at another limiting belief: Success shouldn’t come easy. I hear this often from women leaders and anyone who has had to work harder to prove themselves.
Sure, this belief is reinforced by very real barriers. The danger is when we erect them for ourselves.
Let’s say an opportunity falls into your lap from out of nowhere. You could dismiss it as “too easy” or “too good to be true” because it doesn’t fit into your narrative.
Orrrrr, you could stop yourself and say, “Maybe all that work I put in is finally paying off…Maybe people recognize that I have something to offer…”
When we approach something we really want, we bring all sorts of beliefs about why it can’t possibly work. Self-sabotage is there, riding alongside, hovering a finger over the ejector seat whispering, “See? I told you you were crazy to want that. Abort! Abort!”
Yet if we stick with it, we experience how willing strangers are to help, how big aha’s can come from little conversations, and how opportunities pop up from the darnedest places.
It happens all the time.
Take some time to uncover your biggest beliefs about your career. Do those beliefs help or hinder you?
Rewarding bad behavior
Unless we do the work to surface these thoughts and retrain ourselves, we cling to unhelpful beliefs despite much evidence to the contrary.
If you really, really want something but are finding it tough to make it happen, start by getting really honest about what you’re telling yourself about it.
Outside voice: I really want a new job.
Inside voice: I’m not smart enough to get the job I want.
Outside voice: I want to make money doing something creative.
Inside voice: There’s no way this job actually exists.
Which voice is going to win out? Do you see how the inside voice plays right into our success shouldn’t come easy narrative?
You can do this same exercise with the feeling you want.
Outside voice: I want a new job because I’m tired of being stressed out.
Inside voice: I’m currently doing the work of 3 people, but that can’t be helped.
Do you see the contradiction in those two statements? If you can’t commit to choosing less stress today, what makes you think you’ll do so tomorrow?
In this way, we reward ourselves for bad behavior and reinforce those deep beliefs, which coincidently makes change harder. Self-sabotage is a clever creature.
We can and should design a better career around the idea of less stress. But we can also structure every single day until then around achieving this same feeling.
Plus, how much bigger will you be able to think about your future career if you’re feeling calm and collected versus anxious and overwhelmed?
Happiness —> Success.
It’s as easy to contemplate success as it is to assume failure
A couple years ago, I was worrying aloud to my financial advisor about an impending catastrophic stock market crash and how I would never be able to retire and could he put me in touch with a realtor to help me find a bridge to live under.
I interrupted my own rant to ask, “How are you so calm?!”
He said, “It’s just as easy to imagine things turning out well as it is to imagine them not.”
Spoken like an optimist.
But he’s right. We often choose to worry about the things that could go wrong rather than be motivated by the things that could go right.
You can choose to believe that taking steps will help you grow exponentially, build new skills, and ultimately be successful. Or you can buy in to the idea of failing repeatedly in increasingly dramatic ways until ultimately dying penniless and alone. The choice is yours.
We’re motivated by avoidance of pain. Change is painful. So is stagnation. How is the pain of low expectations better than pain that actually gets us somewhere?
Turn complaints into compliments
Speaking of pain, I LOVE paying bills. I understand this isn’t a widely-held opinion. Many people view bills, debt, and money matters as a chore to be dreaded, delayed, or avoided entirely.
Yet marinating in thoughts of avoidance or conflict is a tried and true method to keep us from future success.
No matter how much money is coming or going, finding joy in paying bills helps me love my income as it is now (good ol’ ingredient #3) despite plans to make more in the future.
Paying bills allows me to honor the things I value, be grateful that I have enough, and grow a business I love that helps other people.
I could easily complain about how outrageous my phone bill is, lament the high cost of sub-par healthcare, or mourn the loss of weekly manicures.
But these are fancy problems, and they do nothing to bring me closer to what I want to create.
Have you ever taken stock of how much we complain in a single workday?
“This dress makes my hips look huge”
“Ugh, the train is late again”
“I can’t believe I did that. I’m such an idiot.”
“Can you believe how long it takes John to get to the point?”
“This project is a waste of time”
These micro-complaints form our daily soundtrack and train us to focus on everything we lack. How can we possibly believe and take positive action coming from that place?
Shifting to what we appreciate reminds us of all the things that are going well and builds a solid platform on which we can build something even better.
Complaint: I hate my knobby knees
Compliment: I love that I have two working legs that take me places
Complaint: Dealing with insurance companies is such a pain
Compliment: I’m so lucky to have access to healthcare
Complaint: I can’t believe my seltzer has cockroach poison in it
Compliment: I’m so lucky to drink fancy bottled bubbly water when so many don’t have access to clean drinking water
These complaints are straight scarcity mindset.
Scarcity makes us focus so hard on the gap, we lose sight of the great stuff on the other side:
Claiming all the “good ones” are taken…job openings, men, Halloween candy
Focusing on the 20% of the job you can’t do rather than the 80% you can
Obsessing over the one point you forgot to make in the interview
Ruminating about the two people who didn’t respond to your email instead of the one who did
Focusing on the income you might give up instead of the 2x/3x/10x money you could make running your own business
Take some time to jot down the complaints you’ve made today—big or small. Which ones do you make repeatedly? How can you turn them into compliments?
Ted in Accounting does NOT have it easier than you
There are as many stumbling blocks on the path to career happiness as there are fabulous careers:
Not knowing what you want to be when you grow up
Not having the support of your friends/family/spouse
Fearing that a career change won’t actually make you more happy
Fear of failure, success…all the fears
My personal favorite is what I call “Ted in Accounting.” Everyone has their version of Ted in Accounting.
Ted is someone you know who has accomplished a big thing, especially a big thing you’d like to do yourself.
Instead of getting curious about what Ted actually did to achieve the big thing, we dismiss it by saying, “Ted has it easy because…” “Ted’s situation is different…”
This allows us to ascribe his success not to his hard work or belief in himself but to his circumstances (e.g., He just inherited money. His wife’s a neurosurgeon. He doesn’t have kids. His current job is 9 to 5.)
This is just one more way we permit ourselves not to believe. We convince ourselves that our circumstances are more challenging.
No one has it easy.
One time my brother and I were complaining to each other about wanting to leave our jobs. I whined, “But it’s easy for YOU. You’re married,” to which he replied, “It’s exactly because I’m married that I can’t quit my job.”
We were both trapped in the Land of Limiting Beliefs—one thinking marriage was the ticket to career freedom, the other using it as an excuse to stay put.
Stop assuming your hurdles are higher than anyone else’s and start throwing yourself over them. Or better yet, see if you can walk around.
Would it kill you to try?
Telling you to believe is not going to make you believe. It’s a choice you need to make for yourself.
Commit to going all in. Time box it if you want—3 months, 6 months, 2 years. Allow yourself to believe for that time.
Try everything, especially things that run counter to how you’ve done them before.
You can always go back to your old way of doing things once time is up.
Start with the commitment to yourself that you’re going to go after this thing NO MATTER WHAT.
Would you rather try and fail spectacularly now or wonder ‘what if?’ Answer this question honestly. Let me know what you decide.
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