I found myself at a crossroads, stuck in neutral.
Nearly two decades after my college graduation, I still wasn’t where I wanted to be professionally. My career was a success in some respects (I had won a few awards, hit milestones and earned a couple of promotions), but it wasn’t as lucrative as I had hoped for.
Reaching out to my mentors
So, I decided to take initiative, scroll through my smartphone’s contact list, and reach out to my mentors for some career counseling. My goal was to learn what it takes to ascend to the top of a company and become a respected, unquestioned business success.
Over the course of a week, here’s what I learned.
On my quest to improve professionally, I first turned to a supervisor I had at my career’s outset. Because she had always led in a caring, maternal fashion, it was easy to turn to her for advice, even though we hadn’t spoken in over a decade.
She now helps lead a department for a multibillion-dollar corporation. However, her path to that lofty position included multiple detours in the form of the occasional layoff and cross-country move.
Her tips were rather simple, yet nonetheless helpful: Display an unwavering belief in yourself, and trust that the next step in your career will turn out better than the last. Like the calm, soothing words of a mother, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
Next, I turned to a venerable, bottomless source of knowledge in my industry who, despite his advanced age, was far too fulfilled to retire. You probably have a peer like this — someone whose boundless passion for their work trumps any desire they might have to ease into a life of golf, fishing, or time behind the wheel of an RV.
This mentor echoed the sentiments of the aforementioned supervisor, noting that faith in your skills will usually take you far in the business world. But he added this suggestion, too: Make sure that each step in your career is made in an effort to improve life for your loved ones. Again, simple, yet valuable, advice.
Early in my career — fresh out of college, and completely clueless in many ways — the man I sat next to in the office offered me countless survival tips, asking nothing in return. This week, I scanned his online presence and noted that he had worked in leadership roles in multiple industries in recent years.
His advice: use a three-pronged approach to climbing the ladder professionally. First, use emotion to connect with coworkers and bosses and to motivate them. He also noted the countless valuable professional certificates that can be attained in a timely manner online these days, helping your resume stand out from the crowd. Finally, he noted the value of keeping an open line of communication with bosses and consistently asking if they needed help with anything.
In recent years, I was tasked with helping a successful colleague organize their thoughts and business strategies. In essence, I was asked to listen to their thoughts, note them, and then paraphrase them in a concise, easy-to-read document. Lo and behold, it became an extremely educational experience for me. So, I decided to reach back out to that colleague and gain clarity on one question I’ve never been able to fully answer: How do you gain the undeniable respect of coworkers and bosses?
“Never break a promise,” he said. “Make them feel important. Trust, in the end, is everything.”
Finally, I listened to the advice of a man who had, for 36 years, led a restaurant business from its infancy, through tribulations, and eventually shepherded it to success: my father.
I had always taken his advice grudgingly, and, on occasion, with a dismissive roll of the eyes. But he and my mother had learned, over the span of several years, what it takes to become the unquestioned leaders of hundreds of employees.
My dad’s advice was concise: first, value the time of others. And, secondly, be willing to take the occasional risk.
This time, I took his advice. That’s why I plan to soon embark on a new job for a new company, one that pays me in line with my experience and offers my family a better life.