When Your Career Stagnates and Your Opportunities Seem Limited…. It can be demoralizing, anxiety-producing and downright depressing. Believe me, I know. In my 20s and even still today as I approach 40, I frequently experience age and gender discrimination. I look young and enjoy fashion (a stint at Saks in grad school left me with an affliction for designer handbags and shoes). And sometimes people equate that with a lack of experience, intelligence and business sense. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “Oh, you wouldn’t understand this reference because you’re too young,” or “I can’t believe how much you have accomplished in your short career”. It seems like more often than not, people are surprised by my expertise, professional accomplishments and network. However, those who know me are not. At work, I’m assertive, knowledgeable and confident. But I wasn’t always this way. Early in my career, I was quiet, shy and afraid to speak up and share my ideas because I was afraid to sound stupid or be wrong.
You ever felt that way? There were a number of factors that changed my behavior over time but probably the biggest influence was a boss I had named Jacqui. Jacqui was smart, assertive and didn’t fit the mold of a typical corporate woman – she played in a man’s world, but was true to who she was and was also someone I genuinely enjoyed hanging out with. It was from working with and receiving feedback from Jacqui that led me to break out of my shell. But if you don’t have a “Jacqui” in your life, what can you do to establish your brand and stand out so you can get the promotion, raise and respect you deserve at work?
Well here’s a few things that I’ve done over the years that have helped me…
1. UNLOCK YOUR NATURAL TALENTS
Take the time to understand what you’re good at. You can do this by taking assessments, self-reflecting and asking others to give you feedback. Equally important, understand your ‘non-talents’. Then, rather than try to improve on your ‘non-talents’, become more of who you already are by building on your natural talents. We wouldn’t expect a goldfish to climb a tree right?
2. DEVELOP PERSONAL STYLE
Like it or not, we live in a visual, superficial society. Appearance is important. You don’t need to be a model or spend a fortune to look polished and stylish but it does require a little effort. Figure out what styles make you feel the most comfortable and confident and stick with those. Sticking to certain silhouettes and colors can make getting dressed fast and simple. Develop an easy-to-maintain hair and makeup routine. You may need to get advice on these things – ask your stylish friends, your hairdresser and the makeup artist at Sephora for tips. It’s not silly and superficial…it’s part of how you present yourself and your brand.
3. INCORPORATE SELF-CARE INTO CAREER
Successful women take care of themselves. They exercise, eat healthy and are cognizant of their mental health. Take the time to figure out how you can incorporate regular exercise and a healthy diet into your life. Stay away from toxic people who sap your energy. Do things outside of work that make you feel good and rejuvenate you.
4. OWN WHO YOU ARE
Once you recognize your natural talents and develop your personal style, OWN IT. Don’t sit quietly in your team meeting waiting to be called on. Stand tall and confidently share your insights. If the thought of this is too scary, start by having 1:1 conversations with peers you trust. You can bounce your ideas off them first and build up the confidence to share them in a larger group or with your boss.
5. ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT
Everyone is busy and most likely, your boss isn’t spending much time thinking about how to get you everything you want professionally. YOU are in charge of your path, even if you work for someone else. Take the time to figure out where you want to be in 6 months, 1 year and 5 years and let people know. Even if they don’t think you’re ready, ask them why and how you can get there. Then take this feedback and think about whether you can act on it or if you are better off looking outside of your current job for the type of opportunity you are looking for. I realize these steps may not be easy for everyone. But taken in small chunks over a period of time, they are doable and can help you take your career to the next level, even if you’re feeling stuck, underpaid and unappreciated.
Hope this helps if you’re finding yourself in that space.
Elena Lipson has more than 15 years of healthcare consulting experience, serving federal and commercial clients and mentoring emerging companies. She is a Principal and Founder of Mosaic Growth Partners, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., that helps organizations and entrepreneurs in the healthcare and aging industries with business growth strategy consulting. The firm offers market intelligence and growth strategy services, as well as personalized trainings and workshops and individual and group coaching programs.
Prior to founding Mosaic Growth Partners, Elena led AARP Services’ business development efforts in health and caregiving. At AARP, Elena was responsible for securing strategic partnerships, developing new business models and serving as an innovation champion. In this role, she built deep market knowledge and a strong industry network by working with hundreds of emerging and established companies.
Elena also spent nearly 10 years as a management consultant, primarily with Deloitte Consulting, where she led strategy, human capital and technology engagements for federal health clients and the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. She also led sales and capture strategy, teaming, strategic business development and client excellence for the Department of Defense Military Health System account.
Elena is a Project Management Professional and a certified Agile Scrum Master. She graduated with a Master of Public Policy from American University and a B.A. in Political Science with High Honors from the University of Michigan.