I began my career in production at ABC before moving into sales, and then into corporate communications at CBS Corporation. Shortly after I joined CBS, I also started working as an adjunct communications professor, all before I turned 23.
I was fortunate early on in my professional journey to find models of success – people to whom I could relate, and who inspired me with their passion and focus. I looked to them for guidance. Eventually, I identified deliberate behaviors which had helped them flourish in their personal and professional lives, and I crafted a personalized roadmap for a successful life of my own. I spent a lot of time reflecting on and evaluating my goals and tactics – a strategy I share with my graduate students and mentees today. I often speak with them about how they can take actionable steps towards achieving their own goals. Here are the steps I believe are necessary to take your dreams into drive. Ready? Let’s go.
1. Create a personal vision and mission statement.
Tracking personal progress is, without a doubt, easier when you have a roadmap. That’s why I recommend creating both a vision statement and a mission statement. They serve two distinct functions. A vision statement speaks to your future and answers the question: “If I were to achieve my personal goals, what would my world look like?” This provides an image of your ideal future. A mission statement is your personal “how-to,” outlining the process by which your vision will be achieved. This tangible, detail-oriented resource describes what you do and your overall intention. It keeps you on track with your goal and communicates your direction. With your vision and mission statements top of mind, it’ll be easier to figure out what you need to do to accomplish your goals.
Be a go-getter and innovator. Invent new avenues for yourself, approach tasks creatively, discover new opportunities for growth, and strive to be enterprising. I regularly look for new opportunities to expand my reach and sharpen my skills. I have often done this in my career by volunteering (which you can do inside or outside of your day job). Every promotion I have received has been a result of me volunteering to take on more work and responsibility without asking for additional compensation. When you raise your hand, you put yourself in a position to learn from someone who appreciates your time and optimistic attitude. When you go above and beyond your requirements, that’s when you can add new expertise to your resume and become a leader on key projects. This is when you are seen as invaluable. By discovering new opportunities for development and visibility, you put yourself in a position to score and win.
3. Have a team.
Ideally, your team should include a mentor, sponsor, and friend. A mentor is necessary to guide your direction based on your personal mission and vision. Your mentor doesn’t have to be in the same industry or field as you, but should be able to encourage and support you. A sponsor, on the other hand, should be someone in your industry who can promote and refer you for positions in your field. By singing your praises, this person will elevate you personally and professionally. Next, choose a true and reliable friend who will be honest, forthcoming, and encouraging. They say your network is like a bank and withdrawals are dependent upon your contribution. Make sure to give your team updates on your growth, but also see how they are doing. Hear something interesting about their company? Do they have personal news – a promotion, celebration, industry update, or a cool current event they are linked to? Offer yourself up for assistance. What goes around comes around. Give and you will receive.
4. Show and tell.
Organically brand yourself and, without being boastful, let people know what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. When someone asks you, “What do you do?” do you simply tell them your job title? You shouldn’t! Instead, identify your unique strengths and your tagline. For instance, as a communicator and educator, I have “the gift of gab” and am an innovative storyteller. The inimitable descriptions of what I do speak to my day-to-day roles as a communications expert and an adjunct professor. The next time someone asks you about your profession, be sure to expand on your answer in your own unique way.
5. Be audacious, enjoy yourself, and have fun.
New opportunities will fall into your lap when you are having the time of your life. I have had countless career-changing conversations that have happened over coffee, lunch, or drinks with people in my network. These were not “work” meetings – just moments to touch base and catch up. Even so, the end result enhanced my career. Be adventurous, travel, dance, smile, and do things you will be talking about for generations to come. After all, some of your best ideas will unexpectedly emerge when you give your brain a rest.
This article originally appeared on The Well, Jopwell’s digital magazine. The Well is the digital magazine of Jopwell, the career advancement platform for Black, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American professionals and students. Subscribe to receive weekly stories and advice in your inbox.