Sincerely, Sara: How Do I Fast Track My Career?

Hello Sara,

I’m 25 and got my start in marketing right out of college with an internship. I was excited when I started my career, but a few years into it, I’m stunted. I get feedback saying  I have “talent” and “potential”, but I’m not progressing. I’m desperate to escape this rut but don’t know which moves to make. I’ve tried networking, but it only leads to a bunch of connections that are superficial. None of them have helped me advance. I want to find the on-ramp to the career fast track. The problem is I’m lacking the GPS that other people must have. I don’t know how to map the route from “Here” to “Success”. 

Please help,

Lost on the Road to Success,

Dear Lost,

The good news is you are aware of your stagnation and you possess the “drive” to surpass mediocrity and arrive at greatness. Those are strong indicators you are the type of person who will accomplish the goals you set for yourself.

The primary distinction between under-earners and successful people is not talent, skill, or even opportunity—it’s having a clear purpose, perseverance, and follow-through. So, you have the vision, enthusiasm, and work ethic–now you need the game plan. A mentor, or multiple mentors, can provide support and strategic advice that will escalate you to the next level in your career climb. Why reinvent the wheel when you can reach out to someone who has achieved the level of success you are striving for, and embodies the vision and values you aim to emulate in your career? Odds are your mentor once faced, and overcame, the same challenges you are encountering. If you’re current thinking got you into a stalemate, then you might need an experienced perspective to get you out. Ask for help, and be diligent in following the advice you’re offered. For a mentorship to be of value, you have to be coachable. The 5 most powerful words you have in your vocabulary as an ambitious professional are, “Will you be my mentor?”

When Warren Buffet recently advised Millennial women on strategies for success he suggested they, “Pick the person that has the right habits, that is cheerful, generous, gives other people credit for what they do. Look at all of the qualities that you admire in other people … and say to yourself, ‘Which of those qualities can’t I have myself?’ Because you determine whether you have them. And the truth is you can have all of them.” Of course, you must be thoughtful in your choice. “If you tell me who your heroes are, I’ll tell you how you’re gonna turn out. It’s really important in life to have the right heroes. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve probably had a dozen or so major heroes. And none of them have ever let me down. You want to hang around with people that are better than you are. You will move in the direction of the crowd that you associate with.” And yes, in the same talk Warren Buffet asserts it’s essential aspiring professionals find mentors. (Warren Buffet Offers Career Advice to Millennial Women)

Don’t forget to help others along the way too. The best way to engage the support of others is to support them first. Today’s intern may be in a position to offer you a job in a few years, or bring you in to collaborate on a winning project. Building relationships is one of the most important ways you should be spending your time at your current job. Relationships will outlast your current position. You will carry your valuable connections with you from company to company, throughout your career.

Stop distressing over your next move.  The truth is there are many paths, and what looks like a setback today may next year turn out to have been a blessing. It’s often impossible to clearly identify the full value of your difficulties while you are in the midst of experiencing them. In hindsight, it later becomes apparent that what you categorized as failures are the very teachings that were vital in leading you to your most profound lessons. Don’t take your failures, or your achievements for that matter, personally. Try to suppress your ego and focus on your passion and your purpose.  Remember, making mistakes and paying your dues is how each one of us becomes savvy enough to later break the rules and create the innovative processes and solutions that revolutionize our industries.

Most importantly, be the kind of person you would want to work with, and work for: ethical, upbeat, motivated, and resourceful. Character, persistence, and focus will not only get you to where you want to be, they will help you stay at the top for the long run.  Best of luck and enjoy the ride!