On my podcast, Mixed Company, I’ve had numerous conversations on the topics of mentorship, management, career growth and professional development. Often, these conversations ladder back to finding “that person” who is invested in your success enough to either share their experiences with you as a guide, advocate on your behalf as a sponsor, or plan your next moves, as a coach.
All of these types of people are crucial for career growth, and sometimes these types of people can be easy to identify in your network. In an ideal world, your supervisor or close professional colleague would naturally morph into roles like these for you. Not so surprisingly, as I've experienced from time to time — everyone you expect to lead, may not be able to lead you.
This is probably one of the biggest frustrations for young and ambitious professionals in their career, or even just professionals, in general, that want to make sure they’re following the right north star. If it’s been done before by the more senior professionals in your network. They should be able to help you recreate their steps, right? Well, that’s wrong. So, as I enter into the third season of the Mixed Company Podcast, I’ve put together a list of five ways to navigate your work life, without a leader or mentor.
1. If you need something, say something
You may have heard the cliches, “closed mouths don’t get fed,” or “you have not because you’ve asked not." Well guess what? There’s lots of truth there. As your own best advocate, you have to let people know what you need to be successful. Do you need feedback given to you regularly? Do you need help mapping out your goals? I’m willing to bet money that your probably do. In fact, most of us do. These are the tools that help us gauge our growth. So what do you do when these work activities aren’t being initiated for you? You initiate them yourself.
Do this now: Go to your calendar and schedule time with the person who’s in charge of reviewing you and setting your goals. Then initiate this conversation with them. Be proactive. Tell them what you need to be successful and be clear about how you need them to help you achieve these standards. Ask them to help you set your goals, or ask them to review some goals you already set for yourself. Some people call this managing up, I call this setting yourself up for success. Either way, it’s useful shit.
2. Smarten up and open your mentor market up
I’ve learned that sometimes the person who can help you the most, is the person you’ve expected the least. They may come from different skill levels, different disciplines, different companies, industries and the list can go on forevaaaaa (Cardi-B voice). Something to consider is that experiences are transferable just like skills. So if you know someone who’s cool to talk to but they just don’t fit your original expectation of what you were looking for in a mentor, then change your expectation of a mentor. What’s important is having support. Regardless where it comes from, having support from someone who cares about your professional growth is better than being the only person concerned with your professional growth. It takes a village of plus ones.
3. Get yourself a good group chat
I have a group chat of industry friends that I converse with every work day, all day. In this group chat we share quick notes of advice, request instant gut checks and share information on how to get shit done on the fly. We also offer each other a quick place to vent (sometimes mid meeting) and solutions for managing stress and tension in the many moments of workplace madness. It’s like bringing my own personal set of work friends to work, wherever I decide to work. If #mylifeofkai was an app, this group chat would be the self-care and live chat features. They save lives daily — my own and my co-workers.
4. Content therapy
Read books, listen to podcasts, watch TED talks, follow hashtags and search quotes. There is content written (by hand or digitally) on just about any subject matter you can think of. So if you can help yourself to some self-help material, do it. Inspiration and motivation doesn’t have to come in the form of a living breathing person. It can come in the form of internet archives of content created by living breathing people. They intended on their sentiments to be shared all around the world for years to come, anyway. Who are we not to indulge? So before the death of Net Neutrality becomes the demise of information as we know it, do yourself a favor and pull up all the content you think you need.
5. Be your own girl/guy
There are going to be times when you’re like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. You will be the only (wo)man on your own personal island. You will need to rely on your instincts to navigate the professional world around you. I cannot stress enough to trust your spidey senses. If you start to feel discomfort, then trust that something is making you uncomfortable. If you recognize you can fix the discomfort by adjusting something about yourself, go ahead and try it. If you find that the only way to fix the problem is by compromising yourself or your integrity, then recognize you’re in a toxic situation that will never serve your success. This may mean it’s time to begin planning your exit strategy. Either way, you have to make a call for yourself, even when there’s no one in your corner. I’ve heard people refer to this as putting on your "big boy or girl pants." Trust me, it’s warmer this way and you’ll thank yourself later.