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Next level thinking

When you desire to go to the next level in life (work, relationship, growth), you don’t play around. You do what you need to do to make yourself better. That’s where I’m at now.  I put my pride in a timeout. I put my shortcomings in a timeout.  I’m doing things I’ve never done before or thought were options for me.   

I was in a sticky situation at work this week. Navigating relationships with professionals on different levels within an agency can be tricky sometimes.  I recognized that I needed ideas beyond my own to help me through the situation. I quickly enlisted the help of my mentor.  In the past, I’ve rationalized that I have a master’s degree, so if I have a problem with an agency, I can find another job. In graduate school, one of my professors actually told me when a job stops being fun, then it’s time to move on. At the time, her advise saved me because I was absolutely miserable at my current job. After about 7 years of employment, it hadn’t occurred to me to search for a new job. That evening, I applied for a couple of jobs, and by the next month, I was employed at a different agency.

I went through a honeymoon phase of about a year with the new agency until I noticed some problems unfolding.  After a few years, I sought employment elsewhere.  I was out of that new agency in 6 months.  My professor was right, when it’s no longer fun, look for another job. However, it may not be solving the problem.  There may be evidence that supports the days of employees working at jobs for 20-40 years are gone. In American society today, depending on the occupation and geographic location, it’s normal to switch jobs every few years, especially in the social work field. I believed this to be my destiny.

What I’ve learned is that every agency has its own unique culture, politics, and you’re thinking it…PROBLEMS.  However, another common denominator, if I’m moving through these different agencies every few years, is me. It just so happens the same theme does emerge.  I get frustrated with people who have strong personalities and/or exhibit unchecked, bad behavior.  I eventually give up.  I believe I’ve lost some opportunities because of quitting too soon. Some people won’t blame me for quitting.  I listened to an audio book this spring by John Acuff called Quitter. (When I figure out how to do it from my phone, I’ll paste the hyperlink to the book.)  I was attracted to this book because I was convinced my destiny was to become self-employed because I was no longer feeling the fire at work. At some point, I may become self-employed, but the point I want to make here is the author gave me a different perspective on how I view my job.  I gained a whole new appreciation for the opportunities that I could create for myself.  I was promoted a few months later. 

Imagine this: Today, I’m confronted with the same situation as I’ve had several times in years past. God is and has been telling me to deal with this issue. This is David and Goliath. This is a matter of me standing up for myself as the dynamic professional that I am.  This is a matter of me not walking away from what God has in store for me. This is a matter of me making a change, so that I can be the change.  And I will do it in a smart and strategic way, but not alone.

When you see a problem, enlist the help of people you trust to help you through it. Especially seek out people who know more than you and who have been there. Common themes in my posts are that it takes vulnerability and courage, but how badly do you want a different result? This is next level thinking.

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Who’s your mentor?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post simply because a lot has been going on in my life lately. As my primary care doctor said Friday while wrapping up my appointment, “You’ve experienced a lot this past year.” There was a pronounced pause, and as I contemplated what she said, my eyes welled up and I felt my lips curve sideways slightly…Yup, I sure have. That conversation is material for a different blog post, but for this one, I want to write about mentorship as I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while.  I’m at a point in my career where I have mentors and the experience has proven to be invaluable.

A few months back, I wrote that I received a promotion which was a big deal. With that promotion, I was assigned a mentor, who was on the interview panel.  Before I knew that he would be my mentor, we chatted briefly prior to the interview and I got a good vibe from him instantly.  Since then, we’ve been meeting for lunch and phone and connect through email.  I’ve been determined to absorb as much as I can, which is why I think I’ve been open to the mentoring experience.

I also have mentors outside of my agency and of different disciplines, backgrounds, ages, sex and race. I think it’s important to get different perspectives.  However, I will write a different blog post on how to handle it if one of your mentors provides advice you perceive to be off base (stay tuned) . As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable with being vulnerable and there are few things more vulnerable than admitting that you don’t know something. I’ve learned the temporary discomfort of vulnerability leads to growth. Therefore, I’m more willing to reach out for help and use my resources.  I’m willing to hear constructive feedback and use it to make myself better.

From my experience, there are many benefits to working with a mentor such as knowing that someone supports me, having someone to listen to my concerns and answers my questions without judgement, and having someone to provide guidance.

Support

Knowing that I have another person in my corner is a great feeling.   I’ve always had people who have supported me, but this is different. A mentor is devoting their time because they want me to succeed. Depending on the work climate, people may support you until it conflicts with their own interests. Because my mentor does not work in my area, I don’t think he has anything to lose by supporting me.  I also have a mentor who is retired and I regard one of my dear friends as a mentor.  Again, neither have any dealings with my agency, so their support is unconditional.

I make it a point to keep in communication with my mentors as often as I can, especially when I’m not feeling confident.  When you have support resources available to you, use them.

Listen to Concerns and Answer Questions

It’s important for me to be able to share my concerns with someone who will not judge me.  I already have issues with trust in the workplace based on plenty of hard lessons learned.  Trusting my mentors will not judge me is an act of vulnerability.  I focus on the benefit of me sharing the information and I trust my judgement that they are trustworthy. 

If trust is an issue for you, it is a good idea to assess if the person you want to mentor you is a good fit for you. Do you trust their judgment? Will they support you? Are they interested in your success? How are they perceived by others (i.e., what is their reputation)? 

I’ve gotten some valuable feedback and ideas that I haven’t thought of myself by sharing my concerns with mentors I trust.  It has also been game changing for me to be able to ask specific questions without worrying I’ll be judged for not knowing something.

Guidance

In order to accept guidance, you need to be willing to hear constructive feedback and be open to incorporate different perspectives into your life.  I have to leave my ego at the door for this.  Since I’m focused on advancing in my career, I am open to following the guidance offered by my mentors.  For complex situations, which I have a few, I listen to the different perspectives of my mentors and then make a decision. This has not always been easy, however, they’ve provided me with great guidance.

I can’t write enough about how life changing it has been to work with mentors. For career growth (or any other areas of growth), it is definitely worth it to reach out to people who are where you want to be. It doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement, although some agencies do have these. It starts with developing relationships and expressing interest in others.  Striking conversations about non-work related activities, inviting them out to lunch or coffee/tea, asking questions about their area of expertise…these are a few ways to start building relationships to get you closer to your mentor.