Focus on yourself for a better career


At the Toastmasters D44 fall conference, my friend Kene Iloenyosi gave a wonderful keynote on change. While he wasn’t focused explicitly on career change, one of the most impactful parts of this presentation was Kene’s second point about the need to focus on yourself. this made me think about my recent career changes and how his points played into my success in navigating those rough seas, so to speak. Overall he discussed 3 points on how we should handle change:

1 – Accept the change
2 – Focus on yourself
3 – Learn from the change

I’ve heard a great many presentations on change, but I can’t remember the last time I heard “focus on yourself”. Kene made an excellent point underpinning the need to understand your talent and focusing on how your talent can help you adapt and thrive in change.

Getting thorough an external change, such as a change in career, can definitely require a change in yourself. In my non-blog life, I’m an Information Technology (IT) Project Manager. When my job required me to transition from Infrastructure projects (hardware) to Application Development (software), it was a pretty significant change. And trust me, the significance was not lost on me. The two disciplines may sound close enough if you aren’t familiar with IT, but this was waaaaay outside of my comfort zone, and at the time I was quite worried that it was too far outside my talent. However, by accepting the change, focusing on what I already knew and filling in the gaps (mostly through reading and connecting with friends experienced in app/dev) I was able to adapt to the change.

A year later, my company changed their App/Dev approach from a traditional, phased methodology to what is referred to as Agile Development. Once again, a whole different set of skills were needed. I’ve had friends who have avoided that change in the past by getting back out in the job market. Them preferring a change of companies over changing methodologies might give you a hint as to how big a change this could be.

But once again Kene was right, buy accepting the change, focusing on myself and my talents, I was able to adapt and learn from the change.

Some things that helped me get through that change include asking myself, “is this change a step forward or a step back?” I’m not saying to categorically avoid stepping back, but for me the fact that these changes were both steps forward made the easier to accept and adapt to. Next, I thought about my existing skill set. Would this change mean I lose my edge, or my expertise in my existing field? This question (and the answer) felt scary, because for me it was a not-so-definite “maybe”. I’d bet that’s the answer a lot of times when dealing with a change in your job.

You see, my 12 years of Infrastructure PM work gave me a solid edge in the job market, especially during the recent recession. For every highly qualified Infrastructure PM, I’d bet there are 10 or more App/Dev PMs.

However, my old field (and expertise) wasn’t going away. If something happened in the first year or two, I could still compete for Infrastructure roles I had experience in. But if I was successful in my new App/Dev role, in just a few more years I would be competitive in that field as well (if I need to be).

Managing change in your career can be also be affected by your resiliency.

Back at the conference, the next evening when Accredited Speaker Johnny Campbell spoke on resiliency, he asked us to fill in the blank, “it’s better to give than to ___________“. Of course, the audience knew the answer – “receive“.

But Johnny’s point surprised me (and others too, I’m sure). He told us that in order to be able to give, you first have to receive. He reminded us that we need to avoid being in a state of always giving. Giving without receiving will eventually make you bitter. Chances are, you know someone with that experience. In fact, he went on to point out that without receiving, we really won’t have as much to give. It was a compelling thought.

If you are a person who feels giving is important and focusing on yourself is selfish, I offer this: I’m not talking about focusing on yourself to the extent that you never help others. Quite the contrary, the point here is to focus on yourself in a way that makes you better equipped to help others, while also providing some level of satisfaction or achievement for yourself.

As you probably know (or I hope can imagine) there are many (many) certifications for IT professionals, and for Project Managers as well. Please don’t be shock to learn that I don’t hold all of them. However, I do keep up with the ones most relevant to my field, including some that I don’t have myself.

When friends or people I meet in Toastmasters ask me about my field, I’m usually able to give them good advice on what they should look into based on what they’re experiences and interest are. And with my experience changing within my own field, I’m better equipped to provide both experienced based advice and academic advice at the same time. By receiving more (experience, education and friends) I’ve been able to give more and with draining my own reserves in the process.

After the conference I realized that I’ve never heard two better reasons to focus on yourself. Adapting to change and personal resiliency allow you to adapt to what is sure to be a changing world in the coming years. More importantly, being able to give in more meaningful ways can not only make you more valuable in your space but leave you fulfilled in ways that you might have ever expected or experienced.

Take a little time to focus on yourself. Even if it’s only an hour or two a week. Every little bit can help you be better able to give, avoid that bitterness trap and maybe even find a little ease in accepting the changes that are always coming your way. When the next change comes, you’ll be ready to accept it, learn from it and stay resilient.

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