I spend a lot of my week listening to people discuss their careers & lives: their first job, the path travelled to their current role, what they like about it, what’s challenging and what’s next?

This year we have worked with barristers, farmers, retailers, lawyers, engineers, and executives from organisations in the performing arts, museums, finance, construction, insurance, mental health and aged care. I love listening to people’s stories and the choices they have made along the way.

It’s safe to say that the people I meet in these programs are top of the pops and future leaders of our nation’s key institutions and corporations. They are well educated, hardworking and have leadership ambitions. Some are pure genius, terrifyingly charismatic and have leader in their DNA, but that’s about 5% of them.

The rest are focused and committed people trying to do big jobs – lead large teams, bring about change and keep their own lives, health and families on track. They seek mentors for inspiration, accountability and support to define and meet their own professional goals. They are looking for tips on how to progress their careers, manage challenging people and situations, and stay focused on the organisation’s vision.

The thing that strikes me about most of us, and the chosen emerging leaders in this group, is that we spend quite a lot of time worrying about our careers, but not much time doing anything useful to improve them. I guess career planning can fall into the same category as diets and exercise, we all dream about that magic pill that enables you to run a marathon without much training or lose weight without changing our diet.

So, here’s my tip: no one goes to bed at night worrying about your career. Your boss is rarely planning your overseas post to Paris with a bonus, the tap on the shoulder for that board role only happens to the same 50 people in Australia and that start up selling green suede stilettos will not get investment until you ask for it.

You need to make these things happen and there are plenty of people willing to help once you ask, including your boss, mentors, or people from your broader network, but they are not mind readers and may not know that you are desperate to move to digital marketing when you have been in finance for ten years. I know we can all get overwhelmed by the apparent brilliance of other people’s careers and lives, but we all have choices and when you break things down into smaller goals, they become achievable.

Four years ago I bought this business and started to run in half marathons. Possibly they were connected. Both involved serious anguish, self-doubt and too much introspection for months leading up to the event or the decision to buy the business, but once I passed that threshold, it was fun and exciting. I realise now that once you commit to your plan and say it aloud you just get on with it, people support you. With the business I set goals, sought a lot of advice, got myself a mentor, actually three and the results have been positive. We have a terrific team, have moved premises to the city, exceeded our financial targets and built an online platform one2one to support our programs.

Perhaps the running has followed a similar pattern. Five years ago I trained for a 9km fun run with a few friends, terrified that I wouldn’t be able to finish. It’s hilarious to think that anyone would care about that fact, but the fear of failure holds us back from doing lots of hard, challenging but sometimes fabulous things. I finished, sprinted to the finish line, and was hooked. I’ve since done 4 half marathons and am now training for the full 42km in November. I’m almost 48 so it’s definitely a mid-life crisis thing, but it gets me out of bed, stops me drinking too much and I love the physicality of running and the events. I enjoy the setting of these short term goals and planning to achieve them.

So have a go, make it happen and try just one of these ideas in the next week to kickstart your career. As my mum used to say ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’

  1. Set goals & make a plan. Ask yourself what you need to feel happy and successful? Do you want to be working in a different role in 12 months’ time? How can you make that happen? Make a plan.
  2. Get advice, seek mentors and ask for feedback. Do some preparation before you fling yourself on others, it will be a much more constructive meeting. Look for people who have the skills, experience, interest and time to assist you. Access programs in industry organisations, people in your own organisation or McCarthy Mentoring if you want access to experienced mentors with executive experience.
  3. Identify your strengths. What motivates you? What gives you energy? Are you currently in a role that uses your strengths? If not can you change or develop other skills?
  4. Expand your networks. Who in your workplace or industry knows you and would support you for a promotion? Do you have a profile outside your immediate business unit? Do you have sponsors or mentors in your organisation? Have you considered joining an industry or professional organisation? Identify 3 people you should meet to progress your career
  5. Communicate and share your goals, strengths and plans with your team, your partner, boss, mentor and network. You will be pleasantly surprised at the response.

Best wishes,

Sophie McCarthy


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