It goes without saying that our professional identities matter. We project these identities to the outside world at least 40 hours each week—and sometimes many more, depending on our jobs and ambitions. Many of us have carefully cultivated these identities from the get-go, working to ensure that the way others see us is exactly how we hope to be seen. Others have built up their identities on the fly, applying valuable lessons as they go.
But what happens when that persona needs to change? As strategy consultant Dorie Clark (@DorieClark) illustrates in her book Reinventing You (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), most of us will find ourselves at a career crossroads at least once in our lives. This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we realize that we’re on the wrong career path, sometimes we’re pulling in unanticipated directions, and sometimes we realize that we’re just not moving forward in our current positions the way we think we should.
Best foot forward
As Clark explains, “This book isn’t about spin or presenting yourself as something you’re not. . . . Instead, it’s about taking control of your life and living strategically. Who do you want to be? And what do you need to do to get there? This is a book about defining your goals, working hard and ethically to get there, and then making sure that people notice once you do.” Clark then proceeds to identify, break down, and illustrate the common strategies successful business people have utilized to take control of their careers.
But as Clark is careful to point out, crafting the best professional version of yourself is not a task to be undertaken lightly. It requires foresight, research, trial and error, and a willingness to be realistic about where you are and what your goals are in your career. Further, it requires an understanding that these goals may change down the road.
Your story matters
One of Clark’s arguments parallels a theme we explore in our book, The Social Employee, as well: Social media has made today’s professionals more visible than ever before. Because of this, each of us has a responsibility to carefully manage our personal brands. And one of the key ways to accomplish this is through effective storytelling.
As Clark explains, the people you’re trying to get to notice you are busy. Especially, if you’ve made a radical career shift, these people need to know your story. They want to know how you got from point A to point B, C, and D—and they want to know why you chose each of these points as your next stepping stones. If it takes you more than a sentence or two to paint the essential picture of your story, to really summarize what drives you as a professional, then you may not understand well enough yourself.
Roll with the punches
Trial and error becomes important in any professional reinvention. Sometimes a job you’re sure you want suddenly becomes much less appealing once you’ve had a chance to shadow someone else in the industry and see what their typical work days are like. Sometimes the business environment itself changes, and we find that the role we’d grown so accustomed to is no longer as essential as it once was. And sometimes when we’re taking a bold step in a new direction, we’re not quite sure we fit into the new shoes we’ve stepped into to get there.
In these situations, Clark suggests, we serve ourselves best by carrying ourselves out into the world and acting like we belong there even before we’re sure we do. In other words, if you want to be a marketing consultant, you have to behave like one in order for people to accept you as one. If you can manage to propel yourself forward with confidence, awareness, and authenticity, all the rest should work itself out.
Have you read Reinventing You? Share your thoughts in the comments below!