True success is how you define it for yourself. All too often, women’s definition of success is based on what they believe others expect of them. Free yourself up to define success based on your own values, passions, and vision.
Jill Flynn, Author of Break Your Own Rules
What do you want to do when you grow up? Do you remember getting that question from the age of 3 to 23? If you’re anything like I was, then the answer probably changed dramatically over those interim decades. Well, leaders know where they are headed and all the experts agree that leaders take their destiny into their own hands. Todays leadership technique, following Authenticity, Optimism, and Taking Risks, is: Chart Your Own Course. In How Women Lead – The 8 Essential Strategies Successful Women Know, two of the eight success strategies focus on this key issue. The authors frame it as “Own Your Own Destiny” and “Be the Architect of Your Career.” In that second strategy, research showed, “women who achieve most are also women who define success in their own terms and integrate achieving high financial goals with creating a business that reflects their passions…”
This entire premise highlights that all too often women impose self-limiting views on their own dreams – believing that their dreams are unrealistic or that certain levels are unattainable. Not only must you break free of the boundaries that stifle your ambition, but take responsibility for achieving her own goals. Again, from How Women Lead: “Building a career takes a little serendipity; a bit of being in the right place at the right time; a considerable amount of flexibility, courage, and belief in yourself; and a lot of risk taking and hard work. Most important of all, it involves taking responsibility for propelling yourself to achieve your goals.”
This does not mean the path is linear, and in fact there is no way you can plan your career from day one and never deviate. In fact, many authorities on the topic describe successful women’s careers more like waves in an ocean than an ascending ladder. Life intervenes. Women have children and aging parents and health scares. Plus, careers are far too unpredictable and flexible, and there are circumstances beyond your control. However, the constant is that you have responsibility to ensure you re-chart and recalibrate as needed to ensure you reach your leadership potential.
In Break Your Own Rules, the authors offer an illustration of a young female attorney in DC to drive home their point that certain situations require you to take control instead of waiting for permission:
Early one morning, both Sarah and her colleague Rich received an email from one of the senior partners at the firm, asking for assistance. Do either of you have expertise in the arena of eminent domain? The partner was working on a complicated case with one of the firm’s largest clients, and he needed someone to help him prepare his brief. Sarah was excited: she had recently written a research memo on this very topic. She acted fast. She sent an email to her manager, asking for permission to assist the senior partner with the assignment. She got the nod within minutes and was good to go. As she replied to the initial email, explaining that she had just written a research memo on eminent domain and would be thrilled to take the assignment, Rich and the senior partner walked by her office. They were elbow-to-elbow and deep in conversation. Rich already had the job. He had not stopped to ask anyone’s permission; he had walked right into the senior partner’s office and expressed interest. Rich spent the next month working closely with the firm’s senior partner, helping their prized longtime client. He was building a name for himself. It takes courage to act before getting the green light from your boss, but sometimes you just have to do it. Sarah felt the sting of the missed opportunity, but she managed to learn a difficult lesson about acting decisively and stepping up independently to take the initiative.
Researchers, experts and authors all agree that taking charge of your career is a way of creating your own luck. Listen to this advice from How Remarkable Women Lead: “People who take responsibility feel they can shape their destiny. They feel in control, and that gives them the confidence and commitment to pursue their passions, even when the odds of winning are not great. Also, when things go badly or the feedback is negative, it won’t knock you down, because you know you have the power to create a better outcome tomorrow…Ownership is what psychologists call having an internal locus of control in your life. That means you believe your destiny is up to you….The focus must be moving from waiting for other people to decide your path to determining where you want to go and taking steps to get yourself there.”
Do you know what you want? That might be step one. (Read next week to find out more about vision.) But if you do, then sit down and find out where you can start taking affirmative steps to make that a reality. Whatever your goal, write it down, find advisors to bounce ideas off of, and then write out the next three steps you plan to take to move you closer to that outcome.