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While most of us jump to the conclusion that unexpected left turns are negative — they’re not always, and can actually be exciting and positive. Being open to embrace the positive opportunities that may come your way is just as important as preparing yourself for how you’re going to handle negative challenges. Everything in your life is a choice, which is why it’s important to be open to saying yes to positive opportunities.
Throughout my career, I had to find a way to say ‘yes’ even when I was given opportunities that others didn’t take or didn’t want. Saying yes propelled me to progress my career broadly and rapidly. It’s easy to say, “Oh no, I won’t move there.” or “Oh no, I won’t ‘waste my time’ with lateral job assignments.” However, finding your way to yes is probably one of the best skillsets you can ever develop.
One of my early career decisions to deviate from my charted path was to pursue a buying opportunity. My degree was in fashion merchandising, but my career had taken me into the operations side of business. Despite the likelihood of promotion as a store manager, I wanted to discover if merchandising was my true career calling. I walked into the office and said, “I’d like to give this a shot.” What I discovered? I wasn’t a great merchant and lacked the skills for the role. And, I discovered my obvious strengths were working with people, which led me to actively pursued a new role in human resources. Thankfully this discovery launched the beginning of a successful and rewarding career.
Embracing unexpected left turns is all about being open to different opportunities and having a belief window of saying, “How can I get to yes in this situation?”.
Here are five more unexpected left turns that lead to positive outcomes.
UNEXPECTED LEADERSHIP ROLE
The excitement of a new career or life opportunity is something that can be quite flattering and validating. These big promotions can often serve as a platform to demonstrate your traits as a leader.
How to leverage a new leadership role:
Go into the opportunity with a strong sense of your strengths and assets. If you are a visionary with a strategic mindset, think through how you will narrow your focus on taking your team or business to new levels of success. You will also need to think through how to build a team that helps you execute the details effectively and get things done. If you are more of a practitioner in nature, expose yourself to opportunities that will equip you and your team develop innovated business strategies.
You should also always be prepared for the next opportunity by the way you show up in your day-to-day behaviors. For example, Sarah Thomas was the first female NFL official. At a recent conference, she shared her story of when she got the call from the NFL saying they have a job opening. She had been equipping herself all along to have the skills needed to take on a big job leap and suddenly, it arrived!
The best part about her story is that it wasn’t about her capabilities and how she actually made game calls. Instead, it was about how she handled herself on the field. That’s how they knew she was ready for the next level. It’s how you handle yourself. It’s how you show up every day that causes others to determine when you’re ready for that next big step.
Having children is the greatest gift God provides us. It’s the most important role we can play in life; to raise a child to be a healthy, independent and contributing adult. However, despite the joys that come with parenting, it’s a 24-7 responsibility.
You also can’t control when your child’s going to be sick and you have to take off work. You can’t fully prepare for the various stages of dependencies — infant to early childhood all the way through college.
Before children, I was incredibly single-minded in my focus and approach to my life and career. Little did I know having my first and only child would change the way I approached life and leadership altogether. Amidst lunchtime visits and toddler dates, I soon realized having a meaningful and healthy relationship with my daughter is the biggest win I could achieve in life.
How to identify as a parent within your career:
One of the most influential ways to lead at work is to make hands-on family involvement a part of the culture and conversation. This could be as simple as having photos of you and your family in your office to scheduling ongoing lunches with your child at school. You may also need to find ways to work remotely when your family needs you or find ways to accomplish your job that doesn’t require you in the office each day.
Leaders, doing this sets a tone for your team that it’s OK to blend work and life as needed. It also let’s your team see a more personal side of you through your family and will communicate the importance of putting them first in work and life.
I’ll never forget when I saw a female executive at my company announce to an entire room of associates that she needed to end the meeting promptly at 4 o’clock to watch her daughter play basketball for a regional playoff. She did it unapologetically in front of everyone and made a point to say ‘YES, it’s important to be there for your kids!”
And although I didn’t always make it to every recital or game, I was extremely intentional about sitting down with my daughter and asking her what was most important for me to attend. Having that conversation and finding out from them is critical. And, if I did have to miss other things, I would call her as soon as the event was over and celebrate her achievement.
MOVING TO A NEW PLACE
I’ll never forget the time my husband and I decided to move from the Midwest to Northwest Arkansas. It was an experience that at the time I was unsure of, but when I finally got adjusted, soon realized it was an amazing place to live and raise a family.
The reality of moving to a new place can be exciting and stressful at the same time, stretching you in unexpected ways. However, the way you choose to make the most out of where you are will shape what’s to come.
How to leverage moving to a new place:
When you make the hard-right decision to be fully present in your community, you will get exposed to a lot of leadership opportunities. Whether it’s networking at professional events or joining a community cause, building a sense of community for yourself the moment you arrive is essential for gaining momentum in your life and career.
It’s important to also be sensitive toward a trailing spouse. In my case, my husband was the trailing spouse when we moved. Despite the uncertainty of a new place, he made a point to get involved with the city chamber and helped lead efforts to build a recreational trail system that transformed the quality of life in Northwest Arkansas. Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the trails to this day and they continue to expand along the region.
When your trailing spouse is happy, you’re happy. Getting them involved quickly in a way that matters and makes them feel a sense of purpose is key. It’s part of that formula for success when moving to a new place, establishing roots and building new relationships.
Have you ever felt stuck in a job until suddenly it morphs into a career you love? Unlike promotions that are somewhat predictable, a career breakthrough serves as a game-changing milestone that can happen in an instant or over years of hard work and resiliency. When it does happen, it’s important to make the most out of the opportunity.
How to leverage a career breakthrough:
First, take time to really celebrate the achievement. Again, a moment like this seldom happens, therefore, celebrating allows you to look back on what it took to get there. Make sure to do it with close friends, family and loved ones who matter in your life and can cheer you on in the moment.
You’ll want to also have clear goals for how this role will enhance and affect your well-being. Does it allow you to lead authentically? Will it increase your ability to influence in new ways? If so, how? Will it grant you a better quality of life? Be sure to jot these thoughts down so you stay centered and always remember why you first accepted the role.
A personal breakthrough is when you reach a personal achievement in your life that shows you what you’re truly made of. This is different than a career breakthrough because it’s about the character building you develop over time that gives you that extra layer of skin you didn’t have before. It’s also something you may experience during any of the previous unexpected left turns.
How to leverage a personal breakthrough:
Whether through journaling or enjoying the achievement with a close loved one, find a more intimate way to celebrate this kind of win. Sometimes an achievement like this can disguise itself through battle wounds. Still, the act of celebrating can make the experience that much sweeter.
Second, use your new sense of self-awareness as a strength to propel you forward. More importantly, don’t let any of your past strongholds prevent you from being the best version of yourself. Past strongholds may look like negative friendships or relationships, bad habits, or negative ways of thinking. Counteract those things with positive replacements and you will experience a sense of true significance.
I hope these two posts were of great value to your growth and leadership. Unexpected left-turns are a core part of pursuing your calling as a leader and living a life well-led.