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Monday, November 10

ADVANCE: What Do I Want to Do?

Erin U. Starkey, LCSW

This article is intended to help you Advance Your Career. If you have practical experience and knowledge on career advancement (ex., leadership, networking, resume development), please consider contributing an article! Submit your article proposal online here

“I didn’t always know what I wanted to do, but I always knew the type of woman I wanted to be.” —Diane von Furstenberg

What motivates and drives you? What kinds of qualities and characteristics do you possess as a person and a professional? These questions may be easier to answer than, What do I want to do? There are times during a career when we know we want something new, but exactly what we want to do is not always clear. I encourage you to consider the word “emerge.”Ponder its meaning. Then ruminate on its use as an acronym: Exposure, Mentorship, Education, Relationships, Goals, and Evaluation. I have found each of these things to be useful when wanting to generate new energy or advance in my career.

Exposure: Be intentional about creating opportunities of exposure where you may be the youngest or newest person in the room. Volunteer at a fundraiser where seasoned professionals will be present. Represent your place of work at meetings or community events. Join a board that is comprised of people varying in age and profession. Attend local and national conferences. When you are in these spaces, be prepared to speak with poise about your professional goals. Such opportunities not only allow you to learn through observation, but they also give you the chance to expand your professional network.

Mentorship: Learn from those who have gone before you and help bring someone up behind you. Mentors can teach you lessons that they had to learn the hard way, help you make strategic decisions in your career, and serve as a source of support during challenging times. Don’t limit yourself to having mentors who are only in your line of work. Some of the greatest insight and learning can come from talking to people who work in sectors different than your own. You can apply to a formal mentoring program, or a mentoring relationship may happen organically. There is nothing wrong with simply asking someone to serve as your mentor. This may feel intimidating at first, but more often than not people are happy to share their wisdom and experience with someone ambitious to learn. Just think how good you would feel to serve as someone’s mentor.

Education: The moment you feel you have nothing else to learn is the first moment you will stall the progression of your career. One must always be seeking to learn more. Consider obtaining your license and attending continuing education workshops or conferences. If you have done this and still feel stuck, some books that helped motivate me include Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, The Obvious: All You Need to Know in Business Period, and Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. Wherever or however you decide to do it, strive to learn more today than you did yesterday.

Relationships: There are many people that can do the job you have now and the job you want in the future, perhaps even better than you can. Yet there is only one you. As the late and great Maya Angelou expressed, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” One’s ability to form positive, professional, and productive working relationships is directly related to one’s ability to advance in one’s career. Simple etiquettes such as promptly following up after meeting someone for the first time, keeping and being on time to meetings, sending handwritten thank you cards, and taking brief moments to exchange genuine conversation about non–work related topics with a colleague can go a long way in building professional relationships.

Goals: Release your goals from the boundaries of your mind and begin to bring them to life. Create something you see or refer to regularly that can serve as a constant reminder of what you are working towards. For those who like structure, consider writing S.M.A.R.T. goals or a three to ten year career plan. For those who would rather let your creative juices flow, consider a vision board, journaling, or creating a scrapbook of quotes, articles, and bios of professionals you admire. Goals should be both short- and long-term, and always remember to celebrate small victories along the way.

Evaluation: Social work as a profession is built on the legacy of service. However service does not mean you must have less than what you need, desire, and deserve to be your best professional self. Be in a constant state of evaluation about the work you are doing and whether or not it aligns with who you want to be and what you need as a person. One of the best ways to find continued success and prevent burnout is to take time to evaluate and reflect on your work. Do you like what you do? Do you like the individuals with whom you work? Do you like those for whom your work serves? Contemplate what would make you feel positive about your work and seek it out or create it.

Striving to work hard with integrity and intention, I have applied these concepts while staying true to the woman I am and want to be. It is not always easy. However through this process I have found that new energy, professional growth opportunities, clarity, and career advancement emerge from the paralyzing space of not knowing what I want to do.

Erin U. Starkey, LCSW, is director of mental health support at SGA Youth & Family Services overseeing the agency’s diverse offering of mental health support programs. Aside from her work at SGA, she is board member of ACCESS Community Health Network, an advisory board member of Fertility for Colored Girls, and has a private practice. Erin has also been adjunct lecturer at UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work. As a highly motivated professional Erin has built her career with the belief that all people have the right to be physically and emotionally healthy members of society.

Posted on 11/10/14 at 08:00 AM


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