My path to a successful and fulfilling career was strewn with sharp turns, long and short stops, steep climbs and smooth tracks interrupted by potholes, and total guesses as to which turn to take. But along the way, the accumulated skills and knowledge I’ve gained have helped inform every decision I make and I’m a better person because of what I learned from every triumph and failure. I suspect this is true for everyone who strives every day to make a difference in their life, and the lives of others.
People I’ve mentored along the way, especially women, have asked me the secret to getting ahead, to building a solid career path. I have no secret sauce, no sure-fire solution. However, I can share a few of my guiding principles that have served me well over the last 35 years.
- Wishing won’t make it happen. Hard work lays the groundwork for success – have the right skills, do the right things, meet the right people and put yourself in the right place at the right time. I wanted to work in book publishing as an editor. I had an MA, I wrote and was published. But it was a closed world to a newcomer. I got a job in a bookstore that I parlayed into a position as manager and buyer and got to know industry insiders. But it took enrolling myself in a two-week intensive course, led by those same insiders, to get noticed and ultimately hired in the industry. Perseverance paid off. This has been the case in virtually every step of my career.
- If it’s meant to be, it will be. If it doesn’t happen, the place you land next is where you are meant to be on your journey. I’ve applied for jobs that I believed I was the most qualified candidate for that went to someone else, often a man, and later realized that the organization was toxic, or in trouble, and I was better off out of there. Another take on this is “The right thing happens at the right time for the right reason.”
- Let your reputation speak for itself. I do believe actions speak louder than words and leave the best impression. Be prepared, be on top of your game and add value no matter what you are doing. People truly do take note, and people talk. Volunteer work is one of the best ways to build and bolster your reputation with new groups – leading to exciting new opportunities. However, never be shy about letting people know what you know and what you can do – then show them!
- Never burn a bridge. Maintain a great relationship with everyone you’ve worked with or for, and make sure you check in with them periodically. Be available after you leave a job to help out when asked, and don’t forget to offer your help to whoever is taking over from you. Leave a job gracefully, even if you’ve been pushed out, ensuring you leave copious notes for your replacement to follow.
- Manage “down” more than you manage “up.” If you have direct reports, or report to someone, or both, make sure you treat the people who work for you, or alongside you, well – they are the ones who support you in your work, make you look good, and pick up the slack during difficult times. Plus, you never know where that person might go within the company or in the industry and they might be someone who can do you a favour, make a recommendation or even hire or fire you one day. This tip complements the previous one.
- Everything is a learning experience. Good or bad, remain open and take the lessons learned and apply that to your future actions. Add to your arsenal of skills, take classes, actively listen to others. Life-long learning is essential to your growth as a person and as a team member in any environment.
- Don’t be afraid to bring your unique creativity to what you do. I like to think out of the box, dream to find solutions and run on instinct a lot (especially when hiring.) Don’t put the creative brain aside because you think a job requires only analytic thinking.
I’ve been lucky enough to work in some exciting fields and meet some of my idols (writers, directors, actors) and to work with amazing women who shared their knowledge and expertise with me and became my idols. I am grateful for the path that has brought me from small town to Toronto and now to St. Catharines, and I am excited to use my accumulated experience and knowledge to apply creative solutions on behalf of clients in my work as a consultant. Every day is an adventure, every day I learn something new.
Cindy Goldrick, Senior Associate, Armstrong Strategy Group