Some thoughts for lawyers on managing their careers
At Halebury, we are committed to supporting our team of talented consultants to achieve their career goals. In this article, Keith Krasny, experienced private practice / in-house lawyer and coach provides some thoughts about how to actively manage your career.
Keith is currently Acting UK General Counsel at AOL and runs his own consultancy which focuses on coaching for lawyers.
‘Managing my career’ is one of those concepts like ‘maintaining work-life balance’ and ‘being happy’ that sounds wonderful in theory, but is frustratingly elusive in practice. How can I manage my career if I don’t know exactly what I want to do next? How can I find the time when I’m struggling just to manage my day-to-day workload? Isn’t the best way to manage my career simply to do a brilliant job in my current position? Oh God, does it mean I have to speak at conferences and stand around at endless networking events with other lawyers?
If I asked you to repeat the following sentence out loud, you probably wouldn’t disagree with it: “I should be taking active steps to manage my career.”
But even if you don’t disagree with it, you might just feel a twinge of impatience, frustration or even anger at that seemingly simple and logical statement. If it’s so logical and obvious, then why does it have that effect? We know we should be managing our careers, so why aren’t we doing more about it?
Now think about this: “Managing my career means doing a great job in the position that I currently hold while honing skills and developing personal and professional connections that may help me lay the groundwork for my future career moves.”
Notice a few things about the sentence above. First, there is no mention of the ultimate destination for your career. You don’t need to know exactly where you want to end up. Second, there are no specific tasks you have to undertake. No one else can tell you exactly what steps you need to take or exactly how to get there. Exploring the options and finding what works for you is actually part of the process. Different people will go about it in different ways. Third, you are already doing a large part of it in your current position, so the additional time commitment for actively managing your career doesn’t need to be daunting or unrealistic.
These three points are important, because they represent three of the major myths that keep us from truly committing to managing our careers in a way that makes it a priority. These myths form the key emotional blocks that make us balk at actually doing anything, even though we know logically that we ought to be doing more. Let’s look at them one by one.
MYTH 1: I can’t manage my career if I don’t know exactly where I want to end up.
The people I’ve met who have the most interesting careers almost never knew where they would end up (and still don’t). A career is not like a ride in a motorboat, where you set out your destination, hit the throttle and go directly from point A to point B. A career is more like a sailing trip, with lots of zig-zagging, tacking and turning. External forces, just like wind and wave conditions, influence how much control we have. Sometimes, just keeping the boat upright is as much control as we can muster. But often, what seems like getting blown off course may actually bring us to a destination we hadn’t even dreamed existed.
The skills you develop and the people that you meet as you actively manage your career will serve you no matter what your ultimate destination may be. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to know that destination now. It’s not about controlling the outcome, it’s about actively engaging in the process.
MYTH 2: Managing my career means a lot of networking, public speaking and other activities that make me squirm.
There are many articles and books out there on specific skills and activities for managing your career. Profile raising and networking are often high on the list, but if you don’t like public speaking, or hate the idea of working a room after a conference, there are other ways to do both. Talking to peers about what they do, getting a mentor, legal or non-legal, within or outside your business or getting a coach are all helpful for figuring out which options are out there and what may work best for you.
Too often we read a list of top tips, or hear someone else’s advice for managing our careers and think, “That wouldn’t work for me.” So, instead of picking out the bits that might work or adapting someone else’s suggestions so that they could work for us, we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Articles, books and advice are helpful, but don’t take them as the Gospel of That Which You Must Do. Use them to garner ideas and take (or adapt) the ones you think are worth trying. It’s a process of experimentation. Managing your career means committing to that experimentation. By experimenting, consistently and with small steps, over time you’ll find what works best for you.
The truly important step is your decision to commit a bit of your time and energy. Practice keeping it near the top of your mind. Commit yourself to doing at least one small thing this week. Then one more the week after. It’s the process that counts, so it doesn’t matter exactly what you do. What matters is that you’re testing things out and making the process a high enough priority that you’ll actually do it.
MYTH 3: I don’t have time to manage my career; I’m a very busy lawyer.
Every day that you do your job you are managing your career to some degree. Your next career step may well be an internal promotion and your performance and reputation in your current role will affect that. But far too many of us devote all our energy to the job in the hopes that all our good work will be noticed and appropriately rewarded. That’s a blinkered view of your potential career. Why define yourself entirely by the role you’re currently in? Carve out some time, just a little bit, to think about your career, not just your current job.
The hardest part about managing your career is deciding to give focus and commitment to doing it. The human brain is a goal-achieving machine, but feeling like you should do something is never enough motivation to set it on its course. We can find excuses to avoid all sorts of things that are good for us and that we should do. When the excuses stop and we decide to commit, things get done.
If you’re serious about managing your career, push past the myths above and take some small steps towards discovering the ways that work best for you. You are going on a career journey whether you like it or not. Wouldn’t you rather be sailing your ship rather than drifting on it?
Contact Keith via Twitter on @krasnycoaching.
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