I doubt if there is a way around it: When trying to take your career to the next level, you need to be your own biggest advocate; and that simply means you need to be more self-confident, assertive, and competitive.
Unfortunately, people have the tendency of misinterpreting sincere ambition for serious aggressiveness. Even more depressing is the fact that women in particular are held under the critical lens in this regard. I know this because I’ve been unfairly judged before.
But I can boldly tell you this; I would not have made it this far in my career if I had given up on being competitive. Irrespective of the sex, the key to success is learning how to balance that competitive drive with consideration for others. I’ve learned three ways to find that perfect synergy between ambition and humility.
1. Be your own competition
No matter how competitive your company is, your workplace isn’t a reality show and you most definitely don’t have to beat out all of your colleagues in order to win. Even though there are multiple people with the same title and job description as you, it’s not likely that your company hired you all with the expectation of a rat race with one of coming out on top. Recruiting and hiring is an investment that demands a lot of time and money, so if a company decides to hire for multiple positions, it most likely means that there’s plenty of work to go around. All I am trying to say is that there’s room for everyone to succeed.
So instead of working with the mentality that “I’m going to beat Jane Doe,” tell yourself, “I’m going to set my own career goals, and then I am going to work to achieve and beat them.” I suggest you have a mentor or a supervisor to make sure that your goals are realistic and attainable, once you have established a workable plan, go for it. And instead of wasting your time and energy comparing yourself to others, you’ll be focused on building a new and improved you on a daily basis. This will in turn lead to much more positive and enjoyable time spent at work.
2. Lend a helping hand
You might not agree with me on this one but one of the best ways to stay competitive and relevant at work is by helping your colleagues most especially if they’re struggling. Coaching and giving tips to folks is truly a win-win. Just think about it for a minute, not only will you get that warm and fuzzy feeling that is associated with doing good deeds, but it’s also be very hard for someone to accuse you of selfishly clawing your way to the top if you are one to lend helping others along the way.
A great way to help is to reach out to new hires in the office. Think back to how scary it was when you started, you probably could’ve used some help and pointers, and the newest members of your team probably feel the same way. And it’s no news that when you help boost a team member’s performance, it reflects back positively on you.
3. Don’t shove your accomplishments in everyone’s Face
We all have that one person in our lives who carries a list of achievement in their back pocket. They are always going on and on about the turnover they brought to the organization, their latest promotion, and their ICAN score from all those years ago. And I’m pretty sure we all find that person annoyingly obnoxious. Sure, when you accomplish something at work you want people to know, but that doesn’t mean you stand on your desk and shout it, or go from desk to desk telling everyone how awesome you are.
However, if you don’t speak up, no one will notice your efforts. You have to be your number one advocate. You must be ready to speak up for yourself if your career is ever going to progress, and letting people know you did a kick-ass job is totally acceptable as long as you do it at the right time and place; the right setting. And, as you probably know that the right setting is highly dependent on your team, your manager, and your company culture.
In most organizations telling others about your achievements as a morale boost is welcome. This is helpful on a couple of different fronts—it serves as a great outlet for others to learn a thing or two from your success, and also allows you to verify that your definition of success and your boss’ are both in sync. After discussing your strengths, bring up challenges you wish to resolve and how you plan on accomplishing that. That way, your supervisor will be impressed not only with your performance, but also with your drive to learn and grow.
I’ll be the first to admit that focusing on succeeding while remaining affable can be likened to walking a tightrope, especially during the early years of building a career. Take it too far and you’ll alienate your colleagues and burn bridges. Keep a low profile, and you’ll be overlooked trampled on and underappreciated. But as long as you handle it the right way, you can still come off as an impressive person without tearing others down.