When it comes to career development, there’s one key secret to success that you must understand if you want to do work that you love. The best thing about this secret is that it’s not difficult to understand. It’s simple and straightforward and you probably already know exactly what it is. This secret is accessible to all. Anyone can use it to make their own career happiness. But, despite this, few people do take it and use it in their own lives. Not enough people work their dream jobs, or enjoy the work that they do, or feel satisfied with their careers, even though all of the above is within reach.
Why not? Because even though the secret is simple, and probably something you already know all about, it takes guts, determination, and tenacity to live it. Because it’s easy to talk the talk. It’s freakin’ hard to walk the walk.
Have you guessed it? Do you already know the secret to career success and happiness?
I think you do, but just in case, I’ll share it with you here:
The Power of Taking Action (and the Problem with the Standard Advice)
Seriously. That’s all you need. Simply take one baby step in the right direction – and then keep doing that. Baby step after baby step. Take consistent, unfailing action toward your goal and inch by inch you’ll make progress.
And suddenly, one day, you won’t be taking baby steps anymore. You’ll find you’re confidently walking in the direction of your dream. Then you’ll really start cruising and picking up speed. Eventually, you will flat-out soar with your success.
Sounds really woo-woo and fluffy, right? Don’t worry, I know. And that’s part of the problem with the advice to take action. The advice is sound. It is the secret to success and if you’re only tenacious and willing to act, you will absolutely achieve your goals.
Here’s where things fall apart: most people who tell you to take action follow it up with what I’ve said above. It’s fluff. It’s completely inactionable!
How unfair is that? How out of touch is that? Sure, it’s easy to make it to the top and then, once you’re there, lounge around and spout off how easy it all was. “Oh, if you only believe hard enough, you’ll magically find yourself up here, too!”
What a crock.
The problem with most people who have achieved success and then give advice about how others can do the same isn’t that they don’t know what they’re talking about. The majority of the people who have created their own careers did so through a ton of hard work.
They worked 80 and 90 hour weeks – or more – for months on end to build something awesome. They dedicated themselves fully to their goals. They took action on a massive scale and used failures and mistakes and learning lessons, not as deterrents. They kept going, and they succeeded.
The problem is that through their long process and journey to success, they forgot what it was like to be at square one. To not even be at square one. To have no idea where square one is or that it exists.
The advice to take action doesn’t make much sense before you take that first baby step. And just explaining why you should doesn’t help, either. It’s so frustrating that of all the advice out there, very, very little of it explains how.
Let’s try to fix that today. If you’re interested in creating your own career – whether that means landing your dream job in someone else’s business or stating your own business – let’s look at the first 3 steps that will get you there.
Step 1: Figure Out What the Heck You’re Doing to Create Your Own Career
Before you can start creating your own career, you have to know (kinda-sorta) what that career might look like. This doesn’t mean you have to decide, “I will be the world’s greatest reviewer of food trucks across the land” and then never deviate from or change up this original goal.
(Although that does sound like the very definition of a dream job, right?)
You may iterate on your ideas. That means you may try something one way, then find another when that doesn’t work. It means you might experiment and tweak your goals based on the result.
That’s not a bad thing, and indeed, it’s often part of the process.
So don’t be afraid of spending time trying to tease out exactly what you'd like to do to create your own career. This isn’t necessarily set in stone and it’s perfectly okay to operate in beta mode. It’s often the best way to learn and continue to develop better and better ideas.
Bottom line is you’ve got to start somewhere. Here’s how I’d suggest figuring out what the heck you want to do when it comes to creating your own career: find your sweet spot.
That’s the intersection of three important things:
- What you’re good at
- What you love to do (or what makes your happy when you do it)
- What someone else would be happy to pay you to do for them
Is it easy to come up with something that intersects all these points? Nope. Not at all. Go ahead and accept this now. You’re going to have to work hard and stay dedicated before you even start actually working.
The cool thing about the Internet is that it gives us access to billions of other people across the globe. We’re no longer limited by location. That means that even if there’s no market for your “sweet spot” in your current location, you may be able to:
- Serve people around the world via your own service or product based business
- Work virtually for a company far away
- Set up a digital shop in online marketplaces (like Fiverr, Etsy, 99Designs, etc)
My point is, don’t let your own thoughts limit you with this exercise. Be honest with yourself and write down everything you come up with for what you love, what you’re good at, and what someone else wants you to do for them.
I’ll give you my own personal experience to help you get started.
Initially, I wanted to be a professional writer. Out of college, I had zero luck landing a position in a company in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. But I knew writing, in some form or fashion, was what I was good at, what I absolutely loved, and what I knew the right people would pay me to do.
I kept trying different avenues to get paid as a writer:
I tried writing for content mills. (I do not advise this unless you hate yourself.)
I tried hunting through ads on Craigslist and popular writing job boards. I had a teensy bit of success here, and was able to develop a side hustle out of paid writing gigs. This in itself was a success: I was getting paid to write.
This was the opening I needed. This was my first baby step to creating my new career. That tiny bit of success writing for someone else who was paying me to do it showed me that if I kept taking action, I could make bigger things happen.
So figure out what you want to do. Then take that out into the world and try different things with it. Learn from mistakes; evaluate failures to see what went wrong and how to correct course next time.
And remember, there are two things you can’t do if you want to get started:
You can’t be afraid to experiment. And you can’t wait for someone to give you permission to try.
Step 2: Create Your Own Platform
No matter what your career goals are, you’ll benefit from developing a personal brand. If you’re active on any social network, you’ve likely already started building your brand whether your realized it or not.
Not sure what your personal brand is, or should be? Think about it this way: what do you want people in your professional and personal life to say about you when you’re not around?
That’s what your brand is: the image and perception the world holds about you on a variety of levels. And the best way to start building (or to start correcting the perception of) your brand is to utilize social media networks.
LinkedIn is a must because it is the network for professionals. Even if you aren’t very active, it’s important to establish your presence here and keep your profile up to date.
But as a savvy young professional, this is obvious stuff. You know this. You may also know to hop on Twitter and connect with influencers, other professionals, major brands, and so on – and to share impressive content that makes you look smart. Right?
It’s not a bad idea to make good use of social media platforms to build your own brand (and personally, Twitter has been a huge factor in my own career success, so I definitely advocate for anyone looking to create their own career get on the network and use it wisely). But it’s not enough to just hop on social networks and add to the noise.
You should build your own platform.
Ultimately, you have no control over what you post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, or G+. You don’t own those companies. You don’t own that space. Sure, you have your own profile, but you don’t have any control over future changes that may affect the content you’ve worked to develop for these sites. You’re also limited by their rules and their standards (like Twitter’s 140 character limitation).
So step one to creating your own career: grab your own domain name (ideally, yourname.com) and set up your own site. Before you panic and think this is too complicated – it’s not! Use the right tools and you’ll be fine.
Personally, I prefer working with WordPress and having my site hosted on BlueHost. If you go to WordPress.org and click on the “hosting” tab, they provide three options that will allow you to get your own site up and running in about 5 minutes and with about that many mouseclicks, too.
It’s your site, so you make the rules. I’d suggest thinking of your own platform as your online portfolio, a place to display what you can do and what you know. Ultimately, the goal of your site should be to build your authority and prove you’re an expert in your preferred field.
Again, I’ll share a tidbit of personal experience to demonstrate how this worked for me when I was creating my own career.
After I grabbed my first few writing gigs, I wanted to do more to get the jobs I really wanted. I knew I didn't have much experience as a professional writer, and I knew I wouldn't earn that experience without work.
What's one of the best rules for good writing? Show, don't tell. So that's what I did with myself.
I created my own blog that was focused on personal finance to show the industry that I could write on these topics. The blog wasn't anything fancy or serious, but it was my own platform from which to work.
This platform allowed me to do a few things:
- It proved that I could write
- It allowed potential gigs to check me out and get to know me on a personal level, which built trust -- essential when you're working virtually
- It granted me access into a community of other bloggers, writers, and influencers in the industry I wanted to be a part of. They also got to know me on a personal level, and from there I developed an insanely valuable network of connections.
(Bonus tip: the quickest way to do this is to start your own blog about the niche you want to get in to. Jeff Goins has a nice free “challenge” to help you get started with a blog that you can find here.)
Step 3: Develop Your Niche and Your Presence
Once you’ve set up your own little space of the Internet to do whatever the heck you want with, it’s time to work on creating that ideal career that you want.
Remember, when you set out to create your own career, it means you don't wait for someone else to give you permission. You don't ask if you can. You simply do.
You do not send out countless resumes to faceless companies in hopes that one of them will call you back and graciously invite you for an interview. You do not take this amazing idea for your own service or product to offer people and spend all your time and energy trying to convince everyone why it's great (even though no one is listening).
Instead, you work on developing your own platform. You continue to dive into a niche, and you work to establish your presence as the go-to expert on that subject.
It's the difference between desperately knocking on doors trying to convince people to buy what you're selling (a product, a service, or yourself) -- and building your own door that people are lining up outside of for a chance to talk with you, work with you, buy from you.
Developing your own online presence, establishing your authority in your niche -- that's building your own door.
What happened after I built my own door via my blog?
- I started gaining exposure for myself and what I wanted to do. This allowed me to build a positive reputation and an easily-recognized brand.
- I picked up more and better paying writing gigs.
- I discovered new opportunities in what seemed to be a previously untapped niche. I explored these and found something even better than just writing for a living!
- I established my own side business, separate from my role as a blogger and writer, as a content marketer who specialized in helping financial professionals.
- I launched that side business into a full-time digital marketing business seven months after starting it. It's now my full-time work (but I still have and write on the blog that started it all!)
Kinda cool, right? And all this from someone who just wanted to get paid to write. Some days I'm still stunned that I not only work for myself but I so as a successful entrepreneur. All because I kept pushing myself to take action and not give up on my goal.
There's a lot more to do after this, and a long way to go. But I promise, the momentum you'll build after this will carry you a very long way.
This is how you take the first three steps to creating your own career. This is how you start taking action.