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Four Keys To Laying Out And Traveling Your Path To Success

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

There’s so much movement in the job market these days that many smart, talented people are deciding they can do better by finding new jobs. At the same time, because so many smart, talented people are leaving their jobs, there are plenty of exciting opportunities within companies. Whether you choose to stay or go, if you’d like to carve out a path to success, Ruth Gotian, chief learning officer at Weill Cornell Medicine and author of The Success Factor: Developing the Mindset and Skillset for Peak Business Performance, says you’ll need a “strong work ethic, a solid foundation [of skills] that is constantly being reinforced and a commitment to lifelong learning.” 

And because there will always be setbacks, you’ll also need grit and tenacity to deal with natural and human-made disasters, bad luck or even pandemics without losing sight of your big picture. As Dorie Clark, professor of executive education at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and author of The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, explains, “You need to have a Plan B (Or C, or D, or E, or F) in your back pocket, and the resilience to say: ‘Well, that didn’t work—so let’s try something else.’” Here are four ways you can keep your eye on the ball and the horizon line at the same time so you can carve out a trajectory toward success and satisfaction.

If you find your passion, manage it. Gotian notes, “There are many talented people around, but few nurture their natural gifts with the focus and intention of becoming an elite high achiever.” She stresses the importance of cultivating your natural talent and enjoying what you do—otherwise, it can become tough to keep yourself on the path for the long haul. It could be careful planning or serendipity that gets you started in a pursuit that matches your values and interests as well as your talents. Once you’ve found your path, though, you need to fuel your commitment and drive for staying on it. Look for other people who care about what you do, identify the next few goals on the path, and keep learning relevant skills so you’re always prepared for new opportunities along the route.

Connect with your people and make more people your people. Even when you’re doing excellent work you need colleagues and mentors who will recognize it and keep you in mind for the right opportunities. Building a network through collaboration and contribution can help you gain access and support when you need it. But don’t worry about starting with the leading lights of your industry; as Gotian says, “Peers rise together.” Clark emphasizes that “with long-term networking, it isn’t about getting a job next week or next year. Instead, it’s cultivating long-term connections with people you admire and want to spend more time with.” So join employee resource groups (ERGs), participate in activities with your trade association and keep up with classmates. Cultivating these “weak ties” will enlarge your network in ways that can eventually connect you with the mentors, employers and clients you most want to know. 

Put consistent effort into it. It’s crucial to create your own motivation rather than count on your boss or even your mentors to keep you going. Clark recommends that if you practice “the art of strategic patience—not blindly waiting for good things to magically happen but understanding the work that needs to be done and making it happen—you’re far better off than almost anyone else in your realm.” Gotian stresses that if you’re turned down for opportunities, “You have two choices. You can give up and decide you are not cut out for this path, or alternatively, you can reframe ‘no’ and choose to hear ‘not yet.’” Then you’ll often need to take the initiative: For example, if you weren’t chosen to lead a desirable project team, ask the sponsor what additional experience or practice will prepare you to be ready for the next one.

Don’t give up on yourself when things go wrong. Gotian’s research shows that even for extremely high achievers, the “road to success … is long and filled with many challenges, hurdles and potholes.” The world rarely rewards us immediately for anything, not even for significant effort and talent, and it can be frustrating to slog along without any guarantees. Look to mentors and others further along in their careers for support and counsel as well as good examples of what you need to do to keep moving forward. Clark is almost comforting when she says, “When things aren’t breaking our way, it’s easy to go to a dark place. Every setback seems like a permanent judgment or an inescapable fact … which is why we need a group of trusted advisors … who can tell us, ‘This idea is worth pursuing’ or ‘It might be time to move on.’” You can rev yourself up again by learning something new, reaching out to trusted colleagues for support and giving yourself a respite to regather your energy and sense of purpose.

Anyone can get lucky once in a while. But sustained success comes from diligence, intention and the savvy application of skills. Using these four keys to self-management will help you accomplish more and grow more consistently, whether you see your path inside or outside your current company.

Onward and upward —


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