6 Essential Habits for Getting the Career You Want

UPDATED: April 15, 2016
PUBLISHED: April 15, 2016

Spring is the season for rebirth, a time for new beginnings and renewal.

Did you know work takes up almost one-third of our lives? So a true fresh start can’t overlook your career, as it makes up such an important and substantial part of your life.

Related: 13 Pieces of Career Advice to Help You Flourish at Work

Careers are more a colorful art than an exact science, and we are all in different chapters, so you’d think each career phase would require very different habits and behaviors, right? Wrong.

Just last week I met with a recent graduate, a newly promoted manager and a senior executive; they were all thinking about what they wanted next. While you’d think these conversations would be dramatically different, they weren’t—because when I was asked for insights or advice, I realized that I kept returning to the same important themes.

So, what are the habits of those who get where they want to go? Here is my input on the most important considerations in a meaningful career:

1. Say what you want to happen.

You can’t claim it if you can’t name it. This is true in negotiating for a new job, a promotion or a new career. There is such power in knowing and verbalizing what you want because you’ve dramatically increased the chances of reaching your goals just by saying it out loud.

You can’t expect others to know more about you than you know about yourself. This is true if it’s your boss, a recruiter or someone you’ve asked to help you network. Even if you aren’t 100 percent sure, take the description of your future as far as you can. No one can do this better than you. State your intent or direction. By doing so, you have invited others in to be part of making your dream a reality.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Your Dream Job Is Actually Possible

2. Stop trying to be the superhero.

Hero syndrome makes us do some crazy things. We want that thrill of being the smartest one, the most important one, the one who was right! This short-term thrill has long-term consequences.

We do work ourselves that others could do—even better than us. We don’t delegate. We stop listening and collaborating, because we must be the one with the answers. Relationships suffer. And, if there is self-doubt, we privately worry that we’ll be found out if we don’t know everything.

These habits keep us from listening, learning, curiosity and building trusted relationships. This desire to be the hero keeps us alone even when we work with others. The hero has a very short tenure and there is a long-term price to be paid.

3. Keep your mind on impact versus seeking approval.

This is hands down the most common topic with my coaching clients. The result of seeking approval creates self-protection. We don’t speak up in meetings when the boss is there. We don’t take risks. We lose our persistence when there is resistance or an obstacle.

When driven by the approval of others, our internal questions are, Did they like me? Was I good enough? or Did I screw up? These internal tapes won’t lead you to making a difference, but rather, playing it safe and hoping to never make any waves.

Instead, keep your thoughts on How can I make an impact here? How can I contribute? What is needed that I can offer? and What ideas do I have that will create progress? When you are externally focused on the impact you want to have, the game changes. You become intent on results more than personal applause.

4. Make sure you are in the right pond.

If you like fast and you are in a slow pace, you might be in the wrong place. If you love new and innovative and you are in a world of “this is how we’ve always done it,” you might be in the wrong place. If you value free evenings and you are in a 24/7 fast-paced industry, the disconnect is more than you can fix.

Related: Career Dilemmas: Beware of 5 Traps When Deciding to Stay or Go

Line up what matters most to you with your environment. Without it, you’ll be constantly out of alignment and frustrated.

5. You’re never “done.”

Early in my career, I was sure that when I reached a certain level, had an interesting role, led a global team, I’d be there. I’d have reached my goal and my career would be complete. Goal accomplished!

I learned a little secret early: A career isn’t a job or an accomplishment. You never reach “there.”

Careers are organic and changing—and unique to you. So many have reached their early career goals and yet are still thinking about what’s next. As we grow and change, it only makes sense that career adjustments will follow. Use this discomfort for good. Careers always change, just like you.

6. Befriend and behold.

Careers are more than just the work, but a community of people who you work alongside and know. Relationships are at the core of collaborating and meaningful work. Treat these relationships with respect and care. Make time for keeping in touch. Show interest in others even when life is busy.

This vital community of work friends and relationships will be there for you when you need it most. And helping others grow will surely create some of your most meaningful experiences.

A career is more than a title or a job—it’s how you carry out your life’s work, your way. Spring is the perfect time to ask What next? and What matters most? If you don’t ask, who will?

Related: ‘The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do With Your Life’

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.