My parents returned from one of their trips abroad during their retirement and talked about the very interesting people they met on their journey. My dad said, "Everyone has their career and accomplishments. No one has the same path, yet they all ended up on the Italian Riviera, enjoying themselves on a nice vacation." No matter what you do for your living, you can still end up successful and meeting other successful people there. The key is to have a good story to tell when you meet them.
A blogger I enjoy reading is called Rishadt. His post Twelve Career Lessons is a pretty great one to revisit at each stage of your career, and continuously to remind yourself where you're headed. I didn't realize it at the time, but early on, I was already strategizing my career based on trends. When I was in college, I first attempted to major in computer science. But a professor saw that I was in the class, and he questioned why I, a girl, would try to take Intro to Computer Science when I had no programming background. I said I thought it was an intro class... and he flatly told me I was clearly not a serious student of computer science if I hadn't already started programming in high school. He told me I didn't belong in the class, so I dropped it. Later I learned the boys in that class also had no experience, and he never gave them a hard time about it. When people talk about the lack of women in STEM, and how they need to work on getting us interested by having special programs targeting us, I just roll my eyes. Get the violence against women out of STEM and maybe we won't be bullied out.
So I went for my fall back plan, which was biology. Still following the trend that biotech was going to take off, and that there would be opportunities in inevitable epidemics, pandemics, personalized medicine, and research. I did an internship in college where I genotyped and sacked mice... I found I was great at PCR, but terrible at distancing myself from the act of sacking mice. I could never get used to mouse work. Eventually I worked my way into protein purification, which was very engaging work with a lot of variety and constant movement in and out of cold rooms. I enjoyed the work itself, but found myself naturally drawn toward the quality assurance side of the work. I ended up in the Quality Assurance side of biotech, and soon found myself in a fully administrative role doing quality reviews, document control, and technical writing.
Once I was tech writing, I realized I could tech write anywhere, not just in biotech. I also realized it was the ultimate career if I wanted to be able to work remotely one day and have flexibility for a family. I knew I needed to get into a field that allowed flex work. I once again looked over at how I might break into IT. I still had an interest in the field, and tech writing seemed like the right way to sidle into it. I was able to get a job doing tech writing for information security compliance by leveraging my quality assurance compliance background, and that was how I was able to get into the field of information security. Incrementally shifting my career to follow the trends allowed me to place myself in an in-demand career path. I studied and took the test to obtain my Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC), and was finally promoted to a Governance, Risk, and Compliance Analyst.
I don't regret my biotech detour, since the ISO 9001 (Quality Standard) compliance knowledge gave me the foundation to work towards ISO 27001 (Information Security Standard) compliance, and I've worked in a culture where compliance mattered: biotech cares a lot about the FDA's power, and when compliance impacts real lives, it's hard not to take it seriously. In the IT world, it's more distant from real lives, but will still impact people (as all the famous and frequent ransomware attacks show). The Twelve Career Lessons are a great guide for having a fulfilling career, and now that I'm almost two decades into my working years, I can tell I have a lot to teach and mentor on.
I'm finding the Harvard Business Review a worthwhile subscription for career advice. One of the articles was Why You Should Have (at Least) Two Careers, talking about how synergy between two different pursuits can lend complementary skills and renewed motivation in the other. So I wrote a book on a topic I am passionate about, held webinars teaching people about personal finance, started this website, and began doing personal finance coaching. The skills I learned in each of these endeavors returned to my day job in leadership, practice public speaking, tech savviness, relationship-building, and exercising a positive growth mindset on behalf of my audience and clients.
Ultimately, I am finally leaning into my unique strengths that make me an asset to the industry and field, including being Taiwanese American, female, a mother, a writer, a scientist, a money coach, an author, a blogger, a leader, and a finisher. I have a willingness to delve into the details when gathering requirements for a large, long-term project, and I work very well with people to elicit their cooperation, even if they aren't assigned to my project. I am the go-to when people need something done, and it is because I have a network of doers around me to whom I give due credit. I am detail-oriented and have the patience to ensure the quality of the work, and I can work very fast. When I deliver the final product, my stakeholders are happy and come to me for additional features and improvements because they now see what's possible - through me. My boss keeps saying I can write my own ticket, and I appreciate him for empowering me in my role. He continues to grow and challenge me with bigger, more visible projects. I'm entirely engaged in my job, and I'm pretty sure it's because I have a great boss, am in a growing industry, and I'm highly effective.
I'm in a stage in my career and life where it's time to share the wealth and knowledge. I finally have the confidence in my own competence and contributions. This is kind of a self-deprecating joke I've heard, but it applies:
What do you call the person who graduates last in their medical school class?
There will always be people who need the doctor who graduated last in their medical class. Then, when they need the next best doctor, they can go see that doctor. As Rishadt says, "A majority of career success is to be aligned with trends and industries that are rising and even mediocre players can succeed in an unstoppable tide." For me in my career path today, I need to skill up in cloud transformation. It's about moving to the cloud, what it takes to secure it, and deciding security policies to meet that. One of my colleagues enjoys saying "The best part is, there's no experience required!" And it's funny but it's true: new frontiers are new for everybody... those of us who learn it as it comes become the experts in the field early on. We can write our own tickets.
What is a skill gap you have right now for being able to either perform your current job better or to get to the next rung on your career ladder? Is it a technical (hard) skill? Is it a soft skill? I was pulled aside during a leadership training by the woman who was running it. She told me I didn't need to attend any more leadership trainings, because my problem was in the area of confidence. She told me I needed to just realize I already know everything and need to just go get those leadership roles. When I asked her how I go about getting confidence, she referred me to Brené Brown. This was a soft skill gap that required inner work. I've been on a multi-year journey ever since. Before this, I had an incredibly difficult time giving myself credit for my strengths, much less seeing my strengths. Now, I can see the ways I am outstanding.
I challenge you to take one small incremental action towards closing that skills gap. Watch a YouTube video on the topic. Google an article and read it. Think of someone you know who might already have that skill and invite them to coffee and pick their brain - see if they will coach you in it. You already have the means to close the skill gap. You just need to take a step towards it. What action will you take today?