Until recently, the word “should” has been a part of almost every life decision I have made as an adult. I should major in political science because I’m active in student government and the like. I should apply for this national leadership program because my mentors think I’m a perfect candidate, and I’d gain an endless list of skills. So that’s what I did.
About six months into the program, I was incredibly unhappy. I felt deceived because the promised support from program staff was inconsistent and faulty policies seemed to inhibit me instead of protecting my desire to serve. Nonetheless, I remained in the program for about nine more months because I thought I should. I made a commitment, and it was the “right” thing to do.
In December 2015, I promised my loved ones and myself that I would shift from a mindset of “should” to “want.” Before making any monumental decisions, I decided to start acting on my choices because I wanted to, not because I should. On the following morning, I submitted my letter of resignation and scheduled my exit interview. It was exhilarating, but it also meant I needed to start job searching immediately.
It was draining, intimidating, and stifling. I had to ask myself “why do I feel this way about finding and seeking new opportunities when I couldn’t wait to leave the role I had?” Then, I finally knew why: the process of applying for jobs requires me to consciously acknowledge my successes and accomplishments. For as long as I can remember, I struggled with accepting compliments, or responding to thank you letters from a client, because I felt like I was overestimating my contributions to a project or undeserving of such an accolade. I’m not sure where this mentality came from, but it’s imperative to remember and give yourself credit for your professional wins during your job search. If not, then you’re simply eliminating yourself from the race before you’ve even registered.
Interestingly enough, a professional journey is also a story of personal growth. My growth began when I decided to move from the story of “should” to a journey of “want.” On that journey, here’s what I have found to be essential:
Interview friends, family, and mentors about what they love about you. This was the most difficult step for me. I couldn’t even accept a compliment, so how was I going to try to hold an entire conversation about myself? It was a challenge, but a necessary step. If you personally struggle with tooting your own horn or self-affirmation, then seeking out people from your inner circle will really help with identifying your strengths and talents you may not even recognize.
Take some time to figure out what you love about you. Interviewing your closest friends and family is just the start because no one knows you better than you. Expand on what your cheerleaders have said or add on whatever they may have missed. This step encourages the process of self-empowerment. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself giving that horn a little push.
Write a love letter to yourself. I repeat: yes, this is a necessary step. You WILL encounter some trying times when seeking new employment opportunities or taking control of your professional life, because there will be conversations that challenge you, and maybe a few “you’re not what we’re looking for” emails that are hard to handle. So, you want to have a reliable and readily available panacea for any whispers of self-doubt or screams of insecurity. Feel free to make it your own: it can be handwritten and kept in your purse, or a typed document on your Google Drive. Just make sure you have it armed and ready.
Make time for regular meditation and reflection. It would be reckless to run a marathon when you haven’t run a mile in a year, right? This is the training you’ll need, in my opinion. Repetitive and reflective thinking pushes you to recognize the smaller improvements that can easily go unnoticed on a daily, weekly, and even monthly basis. Meditation, or just repeating a positive affirmation, will seal in the progress you are making, while also building your endurance for the tough times or minor setbacks.
Write a growth letter to yourself. Everyone has room to grow, even Beyoncé. This letter is NOT a laundry list of things you don’t like about yourself. It should be a letter that acknowledges the things you could improve upon, and points out opportunities for positive change. Once it’s written, date it, hide it, return to it in a year and see how much you’ve grown. Then, you’ll have proof of how your self-empowerment can have tangible, positive results.
Amber is a 20-something sales professional in Chicago trying to figure “it” out. Whenever she needs an escape, you’ll find her reading on a suburb-bound train with no destination in mind. She’s barely on Instagram, but you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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