The mindset you need to advance your career

At the end of July, my niece Ellei arrived here in Baltimore, Maryland to begin her two-week internship (with the director of neurology at Johns Hopkins University).

Considering the immensely challenging life experiences she’s been through in her short seventeen years of life, it’s a flat out miracle she-

  • Graduated high school a year early,
  • Secured a full-ride scholarship at Warren Wilson in North Carolina, and
  • Landed the internship.

While her scholarship covers all of her tuition, she still has to find a way to cover all other expenses — room and board, supplies, health insurance, and the like. When I asked how she was closing the financial gap, she said, “I got a few hundred dollars in scholarships from my high school, and I gave myself a $500 scholarship.”

“Wait, what? You gave yourself a five hundred dollar scholarship? What does that even mean?” I asked her.

She invested in her career, with a powerful mindset

Advance in your career by investing in it“It means I wrote a check for five-hundred dollars and sent it to Warren Wilson for my schooling,” she responded, as if such language was normal, or even expected.

What she did — writing a check to cover a small portion of her first semester — wasn’t surprising. It isn’t what caught my attention. It’s the language she used — “I gave myself a scholarship.”

She might as well have said, “I see my potential, and I’m ready and willing to invest in myself. Besides, I know I’m going to make good use of these funds.”

Is your career worth investing in?

How many people do you know with the mindset to give themselves a scholarship, or pay for the training they need to advance in their career? Not many, I bet.

Most people wait.

They want to grow, get additional training and advance in their career. But, they rarely invest some of their hard-earned cash in getting the training they need to advance. Instead, they wait. In fact, a mindset for many people is that their growth is someone else’s responsibility. At the very least, they hope someone else will see their potential and invest in them.

It rarely works that way.

But my company should pay for my training, right?

While a few great companies invest large chunks of change into helping their employees advance, (including corporate coaching and training,) most penny-pinch; hiring outside talent instead of investing in their current employees.

It seems easier to simply hire someone (who already has the skills needed for company growth), than to help current employees gain the skills and experiences they need to expand into new roles. Besides, it takes time to think about who might be best, have the conversations, and then get the right balls in motion for such progress.

It’s (perceivably) easier to simply hire someone who already has the skills and experiences. And, perhaps in some cases, it is easier — at least in the short-term.

Companies have the mindset to hire someone else, so what can you do?

advance your career at the office

Invest To Advance In Your Career

Fortunately, you can get the ball rolling in the right direction by carving out the time and funds needed to position yourself for advancement. You can decide you’re worth the investment, thereby helping everyone around you see you in the same light.

Such actions are so rare today that they often get noticed and rewarded.

(Something good to put here could be an image of the guy who, instead of asking for money on the side of the road, handed out resumes… someone tweeted it, and by the end of the day, he had job offers from some very large Silicon Valley companies)

The mindset that lands opportunity

Setting specific goals, and then deciding that you’re worth the investment, is a mindset (a perspective) worth cultivating. Said simply, putting your own time and cash into advancing your skills demonstrates a commitment that will get noticed and respected by others.

The opposite is true, when you sit and wait for someone else to decide you’re worth investing in. By stalling on your growth, you encourage others to stall, ultimately leading to stagnation and missed opportunity (for you, and any team(s) you may work with).

When to invest in yourself

The best time to invest in yourself is when you’re feeling great about your progress and position. The second best time to invest is when your curiosity grabs ahold of you and you cannot help but want to know more (about some skill or opportunity). The next best time to invest is when your excitement for your work has dwindled.

When investing in yourself is the hardest

Really, there is no time when investing in yourself is bad. But, there is a time when doing so is the hardest, which typically comes when you’ve stagnated so long that your confidence has eroded and your sense of worth has come into question.

If you’re feeling like you aren’t making a contribution, or doing something meaningful, then find ways to engulf yourself in reading, listening, and exposing yourself to people who are growth-oriented. Soak up ideas and wisdom wherever you can, and open yourself to exploring new areas of interest.

Three places you could go to meet people or explore new areas of interest include:

  1. Toastmasters
    An international organization that helps people get past fear of public speaking. It’s excellent for anyone interested in improving in their speaking skills.
    An online platform for finding people with similar interests. (Think: hiking, knitting, running, writing, etc)
  3. Local non-profits
    Call a local non-profit whose mission inspires you and ask how you can get involved.

Setting yourself up for career growth

Four weeks after writing that check, Ellei took her hard-earned waitressing dollars, bought herself a used car, filled it with gas, put all her belongings into it, and drove from North Dakota to Baltimore, Maryland for her non-paid internship. In fact, she had to dole out additional cash for transportation to and from the internship.

Three weeks later, she filled her tank again and drove down to Asheville, North Carolina (a remarkably beautiful area of the world) to begin gaining the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to complete her undergraduate degree.

Something tells me that the time and money invested at Johns Hopkins will lead to additional internships, and ultimately admittance into their masters program in neuro science — an area of study that intrigues and inspires her greatly.

Here’s how to invest in your career

Rather than wait for someone to see your potential, or invest in you, consider taking Ellei’s approach:

1. Decide you’re worth investing in.
2. Decide how you want to invest in yourself.
3. Write the check.
4. Carve out the time.
5. Get into action.

Your experience with growing professionally

When was the last time you invested in yourself?  What steps have you taken to advance your caeer? What did you learn? Did opportunities open up as a result?

I’d love to hear your stories. Please leave me a comment below, or email directly at Misti at Misti Burmeister dot com.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister