“No man is an island” and “it takes a village” have become clichés for a reason – they describe the truth, both in terms of our personal and our work lives. We all need a community, and the more deliberate we are about building it, the better our outcomes are.
Much has been written about the value of mentors, and they are, indeed, an important component of our career cabinets and are a source of inspiration, wisdom and potential connections. In this post, I want to highlight some other folks, equally important to our success.
An Editor. Have you ever sent an email to your boss that you had a niggling feeling didn’t sound quite right, and it actually wasn’t received well? A good editor would have seen the issue and fixed it. No matter how good a writer you are, editing is essential, sometimes even on a 2-line email. This is so because we read what we think we wrote, not what the intended audience will actually understand. An editor acts as a proxy for the audience, and can massage our written product into the form that will broadcast our message faithfully.
You don’t need to engage a professional freelance editor, but get into the habit of running written product by a second pair of eyes belonging to someone you trust as a friend and as a critical reader.
A coach. A coach’s role has some overlap with that of a mentor, but there are also significant differences. Two specific requirements for a good coach are to keep you accountable, and to help you practice and role-play important situations. Accountability – or positive peer pressure – is strongly correlated with goal achievement (classic example: you telling yourself that you should go to the gym is very different than knowing a friend is waiting for you there). Practice and role-playing will make the real situation much less fraught, and that will allow you to shine rather than fidget, stammer, and blush unbecomingly.
A cheerleader. Few of us have the conviction to carry out our plans in the face of uniform opposition. If everyone tells you that it is sheer lunacy to quit a law firm partnership to become a snake handler in Africa, it is quite likely that you’ll remain miserably stuck in the law firm for a very long time. How different, though, if you have just one person who sees the upside in your dream and unequivocally cheers you along? Even better if that person is actively helping, be it with Internet research or brainstorming.
All it takes is one such supporter, and you’re off to the races. Because it’s just simple math that one is infinitely more than none.
A knowledge butterfly. Find thee a generalist with a love for chasing down the new and the interesting (Squirrel!). In environments where specialization is prized, the knowledge butterflies may have trouble buttoning down their own careers, but they are a goldmine of information for yours. They can see trends while these trends are still mere trendlets, and they may have a different slant on the meaning of information, which they glean from an unrelated field. Your horizons will expand vicariously through them, and as a result, you’ll start seeing new career opportunities not visible to those who surround themselves with people just like themselves.
These are the four categories of people that I consider essential to career success, and appoint to my cabinet. What categories of folks would you appoint to yours?
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