How to channel your inner toddler to make career progress
As anyone who’s ever spent time around a toddler will tell you, they’re relentless question askers.
They’re never content with a pat answer either; for them, “Because I said so” doesn’t fly.
In fact, if you attempt to answer one of their questions with something like that, they’ll quickly double down with their “But WHHHHYYYY?” queries.
Can answering endless questions be annoying at times?
But it’s also a surefire way to get deeper awareness and understanding of the subject at hand.
The trouble is that most of us get so caught up in our day-to-day that we forget to pause and ask ourselves basic questions:
Am I happy?
Why am I doing this?
And a recent favorite from Jason Feifer’s awesome new book, “Build for Tomorrow”: What is this for?
And suddenly, years have passed, and we discover that our professional world isn’t the one we thought we’d have.
Don’t let that happen; channel your inner toddler.
To make career progress, take the time to answer these five questions honestly:
1. What do I want?
Though straightforward, that question isn’t easy for most to answer. Some wrestle with insecurities and fears about acknowledging their true desires; others have never pushed the pause button on their busy lives long enough to give themselves space to do so.
The key to answering this query is finding clarity on what matters most to you. It takes thoughtful introspection and, sometimes, a reality check: do you really want (fill in the blank), and are you willing to do what it takes to achieve it? Make sure your reply isn’t merely a grass-is-always-greener scenario but a genuine desire for which you’re willing to work.
What you wanted when you began your career may no longer apply, or you may use this time to pivot and realize that dream you had tucked away for “one day.” Now might be the perfect time to reinvent yourself. Challenge yourself to be open enough to allow new and alternative—and sometimes even better—possibilities to emerge.
But here’s the thing about clarity: it demands specificity, and there is no room for a wishy-washy answer. You can’t make progress if you “kind of” want something. So the more focused you can be about what matters most to you, the better.
2. Are my actions aligned with my goals?
Being clear on what you want isn’t enough; you also need to align your goals with a plan to achieve them—and stay away from the things that can derail you.
Practice awareness to understand how you spend your days. Become more discerning with your time by regularly asking yourself if what you’re about to do supports your short- or long-term goals. Chances are, you’ll discover that the seemingly harmless time you spend scrolling through Instagram or binge-watching Netflix could better serve you. When you’re intentional with your time management, you’ll find that certain activities drop away, making way for other, more productive pursuits.
3. What changes do I need to make to support my goals?
Your environment, which includes your friends, colleagues, location, habits, and lifestyle, impacts you far more—for better or worse—than you realize; it always wins. You’ve likely grown and evolved, and what once worked for you has probably changed. As a result, you can’t make a significant, lasting change without altering some elements of your environment.
If an aspect of your environment is holding you back from accomplishing what you need to do, let it go. The power in saying no to people and things that no longer serve you is that you can say yes to more that do.
Remember, if you’re not changing it, you’re choosing it.
4. Am I positioning myself for success?
Do you make it easy for your intended audiences to quickly understand you, what you offer, your value, what differentiates you, and how you can help them?
Today, the first place someone searches for you professionally is LinkedIn. Suppose you haven’t updated your profile recently, or the career story it tells is incomplete or contains out-of-date career experience that has nothing to do with how you want others to perceive you. In that case, it will immediately send up a red flag. Ruthlessly pare down your information, omit experience that doesn’t support your goals, and focus on selling your destiny, not your history.
You can also position yourself as a trusted thought leader by regularly sharing your wisdom in your area of expertise through social media, which amplifies your impact and reach. Provide value by serving, not selling, and focus on sharing real-world business experiences and leadership lessons learned.
5. What’s stopping me from taking action?
Though you might be tempted to blame your lousy boss or the pandemic, what’s holding you back isn’t external; it’s internal. The number one barrier to success is fear.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It often masquerades as a cloak of protection, keeping us from doing things that may cause us harm. But sometimes, the real damage comes from the inaction that fear enables.
It rears its head in sneaky ways, from procrastination to perfectionism to the negative stories on repeat in our heads, tricking us into thinking we shouldn’t take action.
Everything will remain the same until you take responsibility for your growth journey. To make progress, you need to muster the courage to acknowledge and let go of your fears. By doing so, you’ll get out of your own way and gain traction in your career.
While you’re busy questioning things, you might have one of *those* days.
But the frustration you’re feeling isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In my latest Forbes article, I share four unexpected ways it can actually help you make career progress.
P.S. When I’m not writing this newsletter or answering questions and questioning my answers, I’m a social media ghostwriter. (Yep, that’s a thing). I help founders, entrepreneurs, and CXOs craft their stories to communicate and connect better by magnifying their reach and impact. (Think personal branding and thought leadership.) Learn more here.
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