Around 2009 and 2010 my career was a mess. In late 2009 I applied for a job that would have revived my career and defined me in Product Marketing. I didn’t get the job because of my weak resume. After that I was at a loss of what to do with my spattered past, with stints in five industries in 10 years, a less-than-stellar entrepreneurial effort, and multiple job titles.
And now I love my career and life. What I did between then and now is the secret sauce I am attempting to bottle up and help others as a Career Advisor.
Back then, I was in a place of not letting myself understand my true skills. I had to put my big girl boots on and face some truths about myself, some of which were about things holding me back and some of which were talents I was keeping hidden. When I accepted myself as human, gave myself permission to make mistakes, and found ways to open up to my true skills, I found the right job for me.
Here’s my shortened story: at one point, I found a few exercises to tap into things that weren’t prevalent on my mind about myself, and made them prevalent. Through these exercises, I found a way to make my disparate career history into a cohesive story. I got hired on a small project which I leveraged in my LinkedIn profile. I interviewed some people in my network, and researched to see how my skills might apply to an actual job. I took all that and rewrote my profile to be about IT Communications. Then I sent out an email through LinkedIn and socialized the new direction. One person, who I had worked with several years before, told me his wife was in the field I was targeting and she had an opening. And that is how, in October 2014, I got a fabulous position with a title in IT Communications I’ve never had before, in an industry I’ve never worked before, in an IT department that’s about two to three times the size of any company I’ve worked for.
It's a Wonderful (Career) Life
One of these exercises I call “It’ a Wonderful Life,” named after the movie. The main character of the movie, George Bailey, gets to see his life as if he’d never been born. In my mind’s eye, I imagined what each project or job situation would have been like if I hadn’t been there. I asked, “How would it have gone differently? What did I bring to the project or situation?” I wrote those things down, and took an observer’s look at the kind of person that emerges.
This exercise might be helpful to you if you are struggling to make your career history make sense, or if you feel you don’t know what you bring to the table at work.
Ever notice how some people wish they could go in a new career direction and then the right things and people just fall into place for them? Do you feel like your job is a grind while you watch others breeze through? I felt like this once and was curious about how they did that. How does one create leverage, meaning a smaller effort has a bigger impact? It took me years to learn, make changes to my character, and become open to leverage. Here are some ideas to intentionally bring more leverage in your career and maybe even the rest of your life.
The popular expression of dialing up to 11 comes from the movie This is Spinal Tap, where the band had an amplifier with a dial that typically went up to 10. The guitarist wanted the maximum impact, so he showed off his amplifier saying, this one goes up to 11! So the expression means to maximize beyond expected limits.
And, oh did I have some limits! The economic recession of 2009 had a harsh effect on my personal economy and career. Beyond the poor collective circumstances, I had a poor image of my strengths and how to package my many and varied jobs into an asset worth hiring.
I noticed in the recession that not everyone lost their businesses, home, marriage, and savings. I was curious how they did that. How did people survive and even better, how did they thrive? This is the story of what I learned about thriving and how I applied it to maximize my career beyond the limits of my circumstances.
Without the permission to feel, make mistakes, and be human, before the recession, I felt unsafe and that I must project an image of knowledge and availability. I did almost anything for clients at lower and lower prices. After my personal economy crashed, I opened up to vulnerability and authenticity in my personal life, which then spilled over into my professional interactions and career aspirations.
Second, I allowed myself to change my mind. I noticed that I wasn’t thinking about myself in the best light. I noticed how hard I was on myself. What I did was to question the back-story of my life and career. Over time, I realized more and more of my unique value. Over time, I came to believe I could reframe my perceptions. And over time, I changed my thinking and I finally feel aligned with a life that is full with unique gifts to share.
Third, I rebuilt my career based on my strengths. At one point, I had to trick myself into seeing those strengths. One of the techniques I used I call “It’s a Wonderful Life” based on the movie of the same name. In this exercise, I took time to think about jobs from the past. In the movie, George Bailey gets to view life as if he’d never been born. So, that’s what I did in my minds eye with each past job. What if I weren’t there? What would have happened? I wrote down those things and started to see a pattern of a story of someone who saw the big picture, identified areas for potential issues, and assimilated those things into a comprehensive plan that I meticulously executed.
At another point, I was an independent contractor offering my services. While my services were based on my strengths, companies didn’t have a spending priority connected to what I was offering in product positioning. I took another look at myself. Where was the gap in what I was offering? It turns out I was missing the critical element of my skill in breaking down technological or other complex concepts into simplified, understandable language, metaphors, and images.
I called on my network and began discussing those skills. By talking to colleagues and researching, I ended up being hired for a project training users on how to use email in Outlook, since their old program was being replaced. After months of agonizing over my flailing business, the time from my “aha” to getting that project was a matter of weeks. Then I took the outcomes from that project to identify my skill, and target my communications skills from an IT perspective – sharing technology changes with users. Again I tapped my network and got confirmation. I updated my LinkedIn profile to highlight my accomplishments in the area of communications.
At that point I felt ready to present myself to the world as a communicator of technology. I sent out an email from within LinkedIn to about 150 of my 700 or so connections, and authentically described my change in direction.
Guess what happened? I love this quote that says “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” A man that I worked with 15 years before responded to my email. He acknowledged me for the authentic changes I was making. He said his wife worked in IT Communications, and she had a job opening. I interviewed with her for a job title I’ve never had, in an industry I’ve never worked, and yet with her husband’s recommendation of my work ethic and positive character, she offered me the job. I feel like I created leverage from knowing my true skills, and expressing them in my LinkedIn profile and resume in a way that had the recruiter saying my resume was one of the best she had seen. I dialed it up to 11!
In making these changes, I feel that I’ve captured the essence of thriving in this new economy, and if I can do it, so can others. I feel I’ve discovered the tools and attitudes needed to go beyond expected limits, and I want to help others do the same. I’ve taken a career path of authenticity, given myself permission to change my mind and adapt, and built a career on my truest strengths. If you’re feeling stuck or you want to transition to a new position or industry, read my blog for ideas on dialing your own career up to 11.
Dori "Story" Gilbert is Chief Storycologist; passionate about professionals, their journey, and their ability to direct a career story they love.