For me, 2015 was a big year both professionally and personally. On a professional level, I was promoted from technical development manager in IT to a position that had never existed before at IMA—the director of member experience technology. Not only would I have my own staff reporting to me in this new role, but also a whole new landscape to navigate in my career, including increased responsibilities.
In my personal life, a few months after my promotion, I found out that I was going to be a new mother. Needless to say, I was excited and terrified all at once: excited at the prospects of moving up at IMA and starting a family, yet terrified because I was uncertain of what to expect (while expecting!).
Up until this point, I’d developed a consistent routine that I was comfortable with. I asked myself: Would I be able to juggle the expectations of my new position and motherhood simultaneously? How could I possibly devote the necessary time and attention to both? I’d never been in either role, and I found myself in a situation where adaptation was necessary to succeed.
Five years and two kids later, I was looking back on 2020 and how it was undoubtedly a year of uncertainty for many. With the continuously shifting economic environment and recent COVID-related employment and market disruptions, many individuals must now expand their horizons and look to new career options as previous positions have been either put on hold or eliminated altogether.
If you’re in a new position or thinking about pursuing a new career path, I hope the following suggestions can help you to be successful in your professional endeavors.
1. CONTINUE YOUR EDUCATION, AND NEVER STOP LEARNING.
Commit to being a lifelong learner. Whenever possible, dedicate time to reading books and articles, taking continuing professional education courses, attending webinars and/or conferences, seeking out mentors, and obtaining new certifications—anything that will help you to progress along your chosen career path. While the importance of continuing education is often stressed in a given profession, it’s equally important when facing career shifts and professional changes. A focus on expanding your knowledge and skill set can make all the difference in landing a job that’s a fit for you.
2. CONFIDENCE IS EVERYTHING.
Expect to be taken out of your comfort zone—quickly. It’s normal to be anxious or uncomfortable at times, as we’re only human. Be confident in your decisions and your suggestions, no matter your current level, but be sure to always show humility. Saying “I don’t know” or “I think I may need some help” will be necessary at times. You’ll probably make mistakes, but keep your head held high, admit your missteps, learn from them, and stay the course in pursuing professional growth with confidence. You were given this opportunity for a reason, your own unique strengths and attributes, and it’s important not to lose sight of that.
3. LISTEN FOR CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM AND ACCEPT IT.
“I like criticism. It makes you strong.” —LeBron James
Sometimes criticism will be given directly, or it may be implied. Keep your ears open and take it in stride. If it’s given to you directly, then be sure to thank the individual for helping you to continue to be successful and grow your professional capabilities, which demonstrates maturity. Also, ask some follow-up questions, such as: How would you have handled this differently? Was it my lack of attention to detail or did I just miss the point completely? Was my attitude poor in that situation?
After a few weeks pass, ask the individual if they’ve seen improvements in what they approached you about previously. They’ll appreciate it and be more likely to take any constructive criticism you may have for them more seriously. You want to set a good example for others to model their conduct after your behavior. Be approachable and open to those transparent conversations. Honest communication is extremely important for both professional and personal development.
4. LOOK TO YOUR LEADERSHIP.
The saying “It’s lonely at the top” doesn’t have to be true if you make sure to involve other managers and executive-level employees in your work efforts. Your organization’s leadership team is there to help you succeed and bring out the best in you professionally. Look to them in times of hesitation or if you flat out don’t know what to do—or if you feel collaboration would lead to a better result. Good leaders take immense pride in taking the time to help direct you and assist you. They may say “you need to figure this one out on your own” and that’s OK; that means they have the confidence in you to get through the issue at hand by yourself.
5. LEAN ON YOUR LOVED ONES.
As the global pandemic continues, most families must juggle work and family being in the same home at the same time. If you’re making a career shift while supporting virtual learning, figuring out childcare, or trying to keep little ones busy, then know this—you aren’t alone in the constant tug-of-war between work and family responsibilities. Your family wants to support you as much as they need you to support them.
The choices you make in your career have a direct impact on those you love. When facing a challenging decision in your career, opening up to family members can provide a different and unbiased perspective. It can be your partner, siblings, or parents. They know you best and should be able to point you in the right direction in any personal or professional dilemma that you’re facing and help you to get through it.
Whether it’s making a career shift or transitioning to parenthood, at some point the need to adjust to life’s ever-changing circumstances is inevitable. Having to make changes while facing uncertainty is hard, but it can be manageable with a positive mind-set and the right resources. Ultimately, it is possible to climb the ladder professionally while being a great parent, and there are plenty of professionals like myself who can commiserate with the bevy of challenges that you face along the way.