What Commuting Taught Me About My Career
Before I dive into the pearls of wisdom I’ve picked up from the road, I need to give a little context. I am from a small town in Southern New Jersey and up until being employed by SAP, I never left my county. I traveled on only familiar roads unless I had my route to my destination memorized. So when I decided to take a job that involved a 70 mile commute one way, you could imagine that my family was a little shocked. I just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to 1) have a job secured before graduation and 2) work with an innovative and people-friendly company like SAP. This did not, however, stop me from being epically terrified when I set sail on my first day. I was surprised and inspired by my own willingness to move so far outside of my comfort zone. I have continually adapted my driving techniques to increase my comfort level and success on my commute, something that is transferable to my new career. This prompted me to share some things I learned about myself and my career while out on the road.
#1 Don’t Blame Your Car- The first couple weeks I was on the road, I was hyper cognizant of every noise and vibration coming from my car. I immediately assumed that there was something wrong with it, and vowed to take it to the shop at first chance. As I continued on my commute, I realized that it wasn’t my car that was the problem. It was the road! Just like roads have cracks and flaws causing our cars to tweak and turn, so too does the career path. When my previous career wasn’t going the way I hoped, I assumed it was my fault. Truth is there will always be bumps in the road. Eventually they just become less noticeable as the focus shifts from the road to the destination.
#2 Take Risks: Being a newbie on the road, I would stay in the right lane at all costs if I knew my exit was on the right side. I didn’t want to run the risk of not being able to get where I wanted to be because I was stuck in the wrong lane. While yes this strategy works, it would undoubtedly add unnecessary time and frustration to my commute. It’s a good thing to break out of the pack and mark your own pace. Use that passing lane! Don’t let the behaviors of others dictate your journey.
#3 Find a Rabbit- This piece of wisdom comes from my husband’s desire to flagrantly disregard speed limits. Say you’re driving along and someone speeds past you and you think to yourself, “If they can get away with going that fast, then I can too!” So you pull out behind them, and ride their coattails. Rabbits are great because if there is a speed trap, they hit it first and if they swerve to miss a pothole, you can follow their lead. Mentors are the rabbits of the professional world. They can accelerate your career by paving the way and can also help you avoid some pitfalls. I can attest to the positive impact that a mentor can have, and also the stalling affect they leave in their absence.
#4 Explore Alternate Routes- Once I became secure in my route, I began experimenting with different routes to get me to my destinations faster. Some routes were successful in this task, others were not so much. In every instance I ultimately ended up where I wanted to be, and even saw some beautiful scenery along the way. Development is a fundamental part of career success. Branching out and trying something new can only enrich your career, whether not it leads to an immediate promotion. In my field of HR, it is important now more than ever to have business intelligence to better serve the employees. So why not spend some time in sales? It may seem like a detour, but who’s to say you won’t pick up some souvenirs of wisdom while you’re there.
#5 Turn on Your Blinker- Have you ever tried merging into a lane without putting on your turn signal? It can be difficult and frustrating. The frustration can be eased by simply making those around you aware of your intentions. Without a blinker, the drivers around you may not realize that you’re trying to make a move. With a blinker, they may put on the breaks and let you in. I have been learning a lot lately about how to build my personal brand in the workplace. Presenting your brand is your way of saying, “This is who I am and here I come!”. In order to get where you want to be, you have to make yourself and your intentions visible. Network, network, network! You can’t get the help or support you need if no one knows your looking.
#6 Keep Gas in the Tank- When it comes to your car, this is a no-brainer. However, when it comes to your career this aspect is often neglected. Until working for SAP, I thought “Work life Balance” was a professional unicorn- mythical and unattainable. It is so important to remember what motivates you to work as hard as you do. When I work from home and get to spend my lunch with my son playing outside in the sunshine; that is what keeps the gas in my tank. It gives me time to be a better mom and motivation to be a better employee. Take vacations, relax on the weekends, and at 5 P.M. turn off the work phones. Don’t let the gas in your tank burn so low that you’re running on fumes.
I have laid before you here the challenge that I have placed upon myself. I am still very early in my new career (weeks, not years) and my goal is to turn my career into the shining example of all you can accomplish with these lessons and hard work. I believe I made the first move towards success by getting over my fears and beginning the journey down this road… and by writing my very first blog post!