Stop Focusing on your Career! (Soft Skills = Success)

by Julie Watson, Head Editor, INALJ Pennsylvania

Stop Focusing on your Career! (Soft Skills = Success)

julie_watsonThis is the fifth in a series of articles on soft skills.

Ladies (especially), listen up: Are you anxious for that big breakthrough promotion or that dream job offer? Do you worry that you don’t know what you’re doing and you’ll never get your foot in the door? Are you awake at night pondering if that misstep you made in an application process will cost you the job? Are you afraid to take risks? Terrified to negotiate a higher salary? Wondering how you can find a mentor? Obsessing over x, y, z….?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are guilty of focusing on your career. And here’s the rub: generally speaking, men do not do this. In Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg reflects on the gender dynamics at play during a 2011 Q&A session at Harvard Business School:

“A number of men leapt to the microphone and posed thoughtful, big-picture questions like, ‘What did you learn at Google that you are applying at Facebook?’ and ‘How do you run a platform company and ensure stability for your developers?’ Then two women rose to the microphone. The first asked, ‘Do you think it’s OK to work for a company that competes with the company you worked for before business school?’ The second asked, ‘How can I get a mentor?’ My heart sank. The men were focusing on how to manage a business and the women were focusing on how to manage a career. The men wanted answers and the women wanted permission and help.”

Hopefully, you see the problem here. It’s no wonder the vast majority of library directors and managers are men (despite the profession being dominated by women).  As women we need to step up and get some confidence. We are skilled, well-trained professionals with high potential and we should be acting as such. Self-confidence is a crucial soft skill for professional success. If you doubt yourself either personally or professionally, try boosting your confidence by creating some feelings of competence.

Creating competence: The only way to become competent in something is through study and practice. It’s worth the effort, because once you are well practiced, you will have confidence that you can perform on a regular basis. Set a small goal for yourself and achieve it. It doesn’t have to be a professional goal (for the purpose of this exercise it shouldn’t be). By learning a new skill or tackling a physical challenge where the stakes are low (learning to knit, running a mile, facing a fear of heights), you will develop confidence that you can do things you think you can’t. Then, if your mind starts in with self-defeating thoughts about a professional matter (for example: “I can’t speak up in that meeting”), think back to the time when you thought you couldn’t run a mile. You were wrong – you can run a mile! Now you see that you actually can speak up in meetings (even if your monkey mind is telling you otherwise).

Keep in mind though, running a mile didn’t happen overnight and neither will the courage to speak up. You probably ran a block /walked a block and built your endurance slowly from there. So perhaps the first step in achieving your professional goal is picking a prominent chair in the meeting room (instead of your usual seat in the back). At the next meeting, try telling someone that s/he made a good point – and go from there until you find yourself a regular contributor.

As Lao Tzu said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Over time, with practice and patience, you will develop the confidence you need to stop managing your career. You will become a leader and make a difference in your workplace and your community. It will even feel totally natural (it may seem unbelievable now, but trust me). You’ve just got to take that first step.