Everybody’s looking for the answer, that breakthrough career moment that’s going to solve a serious struggle, help them get ahead, or enable them to look around the corner and accurately forecast the future. Then, pow! You’re back in the game.
In my case, those moments often came at very opportune times. Lightning would strike right when I was wondering, what’s next? Or, I had some doubt about what move to make next. Ultimately, though, whichever path I took, I had to prepare.Prepare, prepare, prepare
Now, before I explain what I mean — because how can someone prepare for absolutely anything? — I define breakthroughs as the moment when circumstance, opportunity and preparedness converge in a positive way. As I navigated different scenarios, I realized only one of those things was under my control: If I wasn’t prepared, there would be no breakthrough moment.
So, I got prepared. The future is uncertain and getting more so every day. So, I built a deep, broad career toolbox filled with capabilities and experience. That kind of skill set helped to prepare me for the unexpected and give me an advantage.
Case in point, even though I didn’t want to be an accountant, I took and passed the CPA exam, something I wouldn’t have done without my wife’s encouragement. But the information I learned proved to be invaluable in many situations thereafter. In fact, not long after I passed, I was asked to take on a big, difficult assignment. It would require me to be away from my wife and first born, and I was prepared to say no. But my wife decreed otherwise.
Immediately, I was thrown into a litigious, highly scrutinized audit engagement filled with lawyers, outside auditors, unhappy clients, it was an extremely tense environment. I was also far outside my comfort zone, but I’d say I absorbed several years of experience in just one summer.Take a well-reasoned risk
Another time in my life this same energy prevailed, I was deciding what would be my next educational move, MBA or no MBA? I had three kids, a traveling job, and I was just starting to feel “comfortable.” There were at least 100 reasons why I couldn’t make time to pursue a graduate degree. But there were two compelling reasons to go for it: It would contribute to my preparedness…and the desire to avoid a swift kick in the butt from my wife.
Pursuing that MBA was the right move because it ignited my leadership gene. Then, the Chicago Tribune offered me a job. I was so excited to join this big company, this great media brand. It was my hometown newspaper — though my dad read the Sun-Times. Don’t tell anyone I told you.
But I quickly realized I was now in the big leagues, and I wouldn’t succeed if I didn’t bring my A game. So, I began to deliberately adapt and evolve as a leader. I would routinely insert myself into strategy and culture decisions. Then, when a major reorganization of the circulation department came, my efforts to prepare and hone my leadership chops paid off; I was offered my first job in operations.
My voice and vision gained strength. I did the work, wore out many pairs of shoes interacting with our workforce wherever they were, and I became known as a change agitator, a leader who delivered results and focused on people. This led me to leadership roles in consumer sales and marketing, transportation and technology, and then my first department head job leading manufacturing and operations. I took them on.Fear is not your noun
Looking back, I realize now that people are interviewing for their next job every day. You never know when circumstances will change, and boy do they change fast. The opportunities that come from a rapidly changing business landscape usually come out of the blue, so, you have to position yourself well in order to be considered for that next right role.
Of course, there is no real way to “plan” for the future. It would be nice if there was a big sign with a neon arrow pointing around the corner to that next breakthrough. But that’s not the case.
So, stay focused on being the best you can be, prepare, take some well-reasoned risks, and build a toolbox. Being prepared is the only way to capitalize when opportunity and circumstances meet in your favor. It worked for me.
Know that each and every breakthrough is a milestone — not a finish line. I learned that as a leader, I will continuously have to start in a new place. That gives me the space and opportunity to embark on the final lesson I have to offer — reinvent often.
This article was originally published in beyourself on medium.com on 7/13/2020.