Don’t Succeed in the Wrong Direction

by Tim Toterhi
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Whether you long to scale the corporate ladder, become a successful solopreneur, or build the next mega organization, success starts with direction – a focal point for your energy, talent, and skills. Unfortunately, to avoid being pigeonholed, many professionals chase a generalist career-track, leave their journey to chance, or simply guess when they come to a fork in the road. At best, their efforts have them succeeding in the wrong direction, and at worst, many find themselves fruitlessly chasing the wrong goal.

But all is not lost. With a little research and some thoughtful introspection, you can have the inspiration of the open road while dramatically increasing your chances of identifying and navigating your ideal career path. To jump-start your adventure, use the following four steps.


1. Listen to Feedback: Whether you call it finding your vocation, identifying the perfect profession, or optimizing your work/life meaning, the first step is to listen, really listen to the right voices. No, not to your inner child or the derailing whispers of critics. You must listen to career stakeholders such as potential clients, former managers and mentors, colleagues, and family. The answer to “What should I do?” is all around you and it comes in the form of your Personal Brand i.e. What you’re known and valued for. Asking others directly can provide some excellent insights assuming they don’t sugar-coat their responses.


2. Identify Your Ideal Brand: Of course, you don’t have to take their word for it. You can ask your career stakeholders for feedback, but honesty, especially when it demands an unpleasant truth, can be hard to come by. To ensure you get the real picture of your current brand, you’ll need to dig deeper by noticing trends. The easiest way to do so is to consider why people contact you. Are you the data guy, the tech whiz, or the voice of reason who can sift through various opinions to come to an optimal solution? One-off requests might seem important, but trends mean more. Identifying a pattern of requests will give insight as to your marketable skills.


3. Consider the Gaps: When it comes to personal brands, there is usually a difference between the status quo and the ideal state. Whether your transition requires a subtle adjustment or an overt and pronounced change, you need to be purposeful. Perhaps you want to be better known for a skill you’ve recently developed, erase an infamous brand you’ve long outgrown, or simply adjust what’s highlighted to achieve a more balanced and accurate view of your current skill-set and offerings. Regardless of the desired end state there are two gaps to consider:

  • A Marketing Gap: This is the difference between what people know about your skill-set and what it actually is. For example, maybe you transitioned to HR through soft skills training so people who “knew you when” only see you as a “touchy-feely” instructor. Without a complete story line or appropriate context, they would be unaware of your new skills and equally oblivious to career experiences obtained before they met you. Sharing your current skills and backstory will widen your career opportunities and alter your brand. Soon the phone will ring for different reasons…the ones you want.
  • A Skill Gap: This is the difference between your current skill-set and what you’d like to do. This comes in two varieties. Sometimes there are elements of our past careers that, even if we are good at, we’d like to stop doing. On the other hand, sometimes we desire to build a brand around a skill we’ve yet to acquire. For example, consider a c-suite executive who wants to become a keynote speaker. He may get calls for business consulting, a skill he has, but no longer wants to pursue and at the same time, struggle to secure an audience as a professional speaker, for although he has the knowledge, he hasn’t proven himself in that area.


4. Craft a Plan: The marketplace is filed with assessments that can provide insights on potential career direction. Some are helpful, but none should make the decision for you. Listen to yourself and your audience. People usually know what they want to do. The hard part is consistently advancing skills in that area and then making sure people know about it.

It’s a sad reality, but many hard-working, talented people fail to achieve success simply because they never put the goal to paper. Left unattended your personal brand will be defined by a simple Venn diagram noting the overlap between recognized skills and market demand. To take control of your brand and avoid succeeding in the wrong direction, you must fine tune that intersection, limiting both what you offer and what you promote. That is the sweet spot of brand and, if you’re lucky, success.

Tim Toterhi
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