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A top executive’s guide to propelling your career forward

Young adult woman walking up the stairs with sun sport background.
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

It can sometimes feel like career progress is beyond your control. This can be especially acute if you are a young professional or entering a new industry. You’re too inexperienced, you believe, or not well enough connected yet. As a result, you decide to focus on career progress later.
According to Carol Sawdye, chief financial officer at CAA and former global COO for PwC, this outlook is the wrong one to have—at any point in your career.

In this video lesson, Sawdye explains why you need to take charge of your future to propel your career forward. And the best time to start is now.

Develop a sense of urgency

  • Make sure you’re getting the professional experiences that you want. Many people tend to sit back and see what’s going to happen to their career. Be proactive.
  • Be willing to take risks and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Organizations today are looking for risk-takers and are more tolerant of failure.

Without that sense of urgency, you’ll become stuck in the trap of sliding deadlines. A goal can always be pursued tomorrow or next month or next year. The next thing you know, it’s several years later and you’ve made zero progress toward that goal.
Deadlines have the power to spur you to complete the desired task by a certain time. In turn, they lock in that sense of urgency. So long as the deadline is realistic and manageable, it further motivates both action and inspiration while curbing progress’s most bitter foe: perfectionism.
Sawdye’s Hodgkin lymphoma was an extreme case but it proves the point. We need to be proactive in our career progress. If we aren’t, we may find an opportune moment has passed us by. 
As for risk-taking, well, there will always be risks. That may make some of us uncomfortable, but it’s important to remember that risks are manageable. Career progress doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing gambit.
If we can’t afford to take a big risk, we can take a small, managed one instead. That way, if the risk doesn’t pay out, we haven’t lost much. But if it does, then we can feel better about taking further risks in that career direction.

Make yourself more attractive to employers

  • Even if you’ve found success at your current job, stay open to connecting with other organizations. Ask:
    • How might I benefit from moving to a different employer?
    • Could I broaden or deepen my skill sets in an area where I really want to go?
  • Continual growth helps you stay competitive and desirable in the job market. Don’t expect an organization to bring you along. Take charge. Lean in.

A key theme underlying Sawdye’s lesson is to maintain a growth mindset. Don’t think of yourself as either attractive to employers or not. With such a fixed mindset, you’ll either become discouraged or develop a bloated self-image that won’t serve you.
By developing a growth mindset—that is, the desire to improve and a belief that such improvement is possible—you continue to make yourself more attractive to employers. There’s never an end game; it’s a constant cycle of improvement and a deepening of skills.
Once you’ve acquired a growth mindset, you’ll find it incredibly liberating. You aren’t a fixed constant. You are your ongoing project, one that you can take charge of and find pride in what you’ve accomplished (and what you will accomplish).

Maintain relationships from previous jobs

  • When leaving an organization, stay connected with old colleagues. Keep in touch as friends, but also as professionals who can continue to learn and grow together.
  • Strong relationships can lead to references and future jobs as you and your peers advance in your careers. Sometimes it’s the relationships you least expect that end up being the most important.

Sawdye’s point extends beyond the adage: “Don’t burn bridges.” Certainly, don’t do that, but we must also remember that it doesn’t take something as dramatic as an inferno to damage relationships. Like a country bridge on a seldom-visited backroad, our connections can fall into disrepair through simple neglect.
So, we must work hard to maintain and, in some cases, repair our relationships. However, this requires more than a follow on your favorite social media platform. You must take the time to engage these relationships on a human level. If possible, that means getting in some face-to-face time.
If that’s not possible, then when we engage with these former colleagues online, we should bring affinity to those interactions. The occasional thumbs up on a post is nice, but it’s not a relationship surrogate. As Sawdye recommends, these engagements aren’t only a way to keep in touch but a way to continue learning and growing together.
Develop your next career move with lessons ‘For Business‘ from Big Think+. At Big Think+, you can join Carol Sawdye and more than 350 experts to learn critical skills to propel your career forward. Deepen your career playbook with the following lessons: 

  1. Assess Yourself, with Stephen Miles, CEO Coach and Author, Your Career Game
  2. Get the Job That’s Right for You: Avoid Three Common Mistakes when Being Interviewed, with Michelle Lederman, Connection Instigator and Author, The 11 Laws of Likeability
  3. Command Your Career: An Emmy Award-Winning Actor’s Advice to Millennials, with Bryan Cranston, Actor, Director, Producer, Writer
  4. Deal with Self-Doubt: A NASA Scientist’s Advice to Women for Overcoming Internal Barriers to Success, with Michelle Thaller, Astronomer and Assistant Director of Science Communication, NASA
  5. How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World: Watch for These 2 Signals Before Investing in Your Employer, with Neil Irwin, Senior Economics Correspondent, The New York Times, and Author, How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World

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