This not an article about the laundry list of experiences you need to become a CEO or Senior Exec (you know, the typical stint in sales, a cross-functional move, a slot running a business, a top tier MBA… etc, etc, etc).
No, today I am sharing the ten experiences that every single one of us should have in our careers. These are the things that test us out, make us better, teach us lessons and crystallise what is most important in work and even life. Unfortunately, not all glamorous or even positive, these are the career moments that develop resilience, uncover unknown talents and teach us more about ourselves than any ‘perfect’ curated career story ever could.
Let’s get started!
(1) A really awesome boss
This one is the holy grail, a great boss that ‘gets you’ and creates a space for you to thrive. They will push you, invest in your development, offer you great opportunities, and care about your success both at work, and in your life.
When you are lucky enough to have this experience, seize the opportunities, invest in the relationship and reflect on why you love working for this boss. Knowing the type of person and style you work best with will help you connect with other great bosses in the future.
(2) A truly awful boss
This one is going to hurt, but it is going to teach you a lot. Resilience, determination, managing bad relationships, flexing your style. Most importantly it will teach you ‘what not to do’ as a leader, and conversely, what you really need from a boss relationship.
The trick is – have the experience, learn the lessons and then get out before it damages you.
(3) The job you love and are great at
Your defining ‘great career moment’. This is the job that you will inherently ‘get’ and will be marvellous at. You will smash targets, be in demand and will jump out of bed each day excited and raring to go.
This is the experience that will build your confidence in spades, consolidate your skills and build you a great reputation. It will be the experience that sets the bar.
(4) The ‘dream job’ gone bad
A personal story. I landed my ‘dream job’. The one I didn’t think I was ready for. Great work. Cool company. Sexy title. A lot of travel. Two weeks into the experience I got the inkling that maybe it wasn’t my dream job, but I quickly rejected this thought (refer to the classic textbook response to cognitive dissonance).
I stuck it out for few years, before finally accepting the things that make me most happy at work were largely absent from this ‘dream job’.
This experience teaches you what is genuinely important to you. Way beyond what you may ‘think’ you want, but what you actually ‘need’ to be happy and thrive.
(5) A really bad hire
I would be confident to say that every single person that makes hiring decisions will have made at least one bad one (and let’s be honest, probably many more than one). This is an experience to take seriously. A bad hire not only impacts the performance and experience of the team and business, but it also deeply impacts the life of the new hire that doesn’t fit.
From this experience, learn what you (really) need in your new hires. Learn how to support success. Importantly, learn how call poor fit early, and deal with this in a human way that keeps everyone whole.
(6) A work wife/BFF
These are the people you love going into work to see, regularly grab a coffee with and vent about a challenging day to. These are invaluable relationships that make work really fun and give you an incredible sense of connection. A true work wife/BBF is rare, so when you find your ‘work soul mate’, enjoy the experience for what it is, knowing that it may not necessarily last beyond the time you work with each other.
(7) The ‘different’ job
You work in Finance and are offered a job in Sales. Go for it! You will be surprised at just how transferrable your skills and knowledge really are.
This experience will give you a perspective that you can never truly achieve without working in a completely different space. It will help you build deep empathy and understand how organisations truly come together.
(8) The turnaround
This could be a big (a company in distress that needs a major redesign), complex (a team with poor dynamics and performance), or even micro (a retail store that hasn’t hit its sales targets in a week). This experience is about leading or being part of a team, that comes together to ‘fix’ something. It will teach you to think outside the square and how to get everyone on board to tackling a big, often daunting challange.
(9) A company that makes you ‘drink the coolaid’
A slightly macabre Jonestown reference I know, but this means working for a company whose purpose you really (truly) believe in. This doesn’t mean working for a business that is trying to save the world or has the noblest of cause, rather it means an organisation doing something that you care about and believe is important.
This experience will give you the swelling pride in your chest feeling when you talk about the Company at a BBQ. It will drive you to try and work harder than you ever thought you could.
(10) The big (scary) change
This the one you may not be ready for or did not expect to take. Leaving the certainty of a career/environment/industry. Taking on a promotion that you are not entirely comfortable with. Engaging with a significant internal change (new technology, a new structure, a new way of working).
While challenging, this experience will teach you about your adaptability and your capability. You will almost certainly walk away from this feeling brave, confident and able to tackle whatever is thrown at you (and that’s a pretty great feeling).
Careers, like all things in life, will almost certainly not be ‘picture perfect’. There will be high points, low points and even some ho-hum points.
The great thing is, every single experience teaches you something and helps you really understand yourself, what you want and need, what you are good at, what is most important. This knowledge is one of those elusive ‘silver bullets’, because really knowing yourself is the only way to make great career choices that genuinely work for you. And, surely that is worth 10 little experiences?
How many of these experiences can you tick off? What experiences are you missing that you want to chase? What experiences are missing from this list? We would love to continue this conversation via the comments section below.