When I think about career success, the analogy of baking a "perfect" pie comes to mind. So many people strive for perfection and never enjoy the process of creation and satisfaction that can occur while making a pie -- or a career. In both baking and building a career, there's a lot of trial and error involved before you get it just right.
For me, the ideal career recipe includes five ingredients: passion, movement using a lattice approach vs. a ladder approach, being purposeful, being a leader and realizing I can't do it all alone.
Here are some thoughts on how to mix these five ingredients together to build the best career:
If you don't have a deep-rooted passion for what you do, you need to find something that inspires you as soon as possible. We invest too much time in work to think otherwise. People whose eyes light up with energy and excitement for what they do are the people who will have full and robust careers.
2. Lattice vs. ladder:
I often counsel young women to not dwell on climbing the ladder. A leader whose sole focus is vertical will alienate herself from her team and horizontal opportunities. I see horizontal opportunities as being like a lattice, similar to the lattice on a pie. You can learn so much by moving sideways. People who think the only way to succeed is to move upward are not seizing the full breadth of a career. Say yes to lattice opportunities! After all, you don't want to get to the top of a ladder only to find it was the wrong one.
3. Be purposeful
You cannot just be present in your current role -- you need to be purposeful. The key is to stay focused on today while having a plan for the future. I caution people not to fall into a sense of entitlement. Before you know it, this attitude of deserving affects not only your work, but sours your personal outlook on life. You need to balance your career aspirations and your current job. Remember to enjoy the process, as this is how we learn and grow.
4. Be a leader
One of the most critical ingredients to a successful career is how you lead. Leading from too deep in the trenches does not allow you a vantage point from which to lead strategically. On the other hand, leading from too far above leaves you disconnected, isolated and viewed as a leader only out for yourself. Being respectful of your employees is critical in ensuring successful leadership and a successful career. Nothing should make a leader feel more accomplished than seeing their people succeed and grow -- that is far more valuable than that next rung on the ladder.
5. Can't do it alone
A career cannot be built on your own. Just as a great chef needs a recipe and a team of sous-chefs, so does a business career. You need a plan that you create with input from mentors, coaches, bosses, colleagues, friends, etc. Ask yourself, who is on my career team? Who do I engage for guidance and support? You own your career and no one is going to bake it for you, but you need to have a group of trusted people whose advice you can tap into whenever you need it.
Think of these five ingredients as you determine what kind of career you are baking and how to bake it. Bake it not to perfection, but rather to fulfillment and satisfaction. If it leaves a good taste in your mouth, you've found the right recipe.