Unfamiliar with the city and location where I was to speak, I added the address to the GPS before leaving home. Arriving in the conference city hours later, I turn it on and dutifully followed the route that chirped at me from the device. "That's odd," I thought as the directed turn took me away from the city towards the foothills and into a neighborhood. "Maybe it's a retreat location," I mulled as I followed that voice up a winding, steep hill.
But when instructed to turn onto a dirt road 15 minutes later, I knew the GPS was wrong. I double checked the address (correct), then retraced my steps, rebooted the GPS, and started again from the town center. A half hour after beginning my location hunt, I pulled into the hotel parking lot, less than two miles from where I first turned on the gadget.
Luckily that GPS misdirection became readily apparent, requiring a simple reboot to get me back on track. But that's typically not the case at work when professional misdirection can take us to places we don't want to go before we even realize we're on the wrong road. How long do we follow "experts" who post, write, or advocate their ways without noticing their directions are not aligned with who we are or what we want?
From bosses, who don't want to "lose" you, or encourage staying in a role that doesn't enable your talents because it's better for them, to family or friends offering career advice grounded in what they would do and would be right for them, you can be misguided with directions wrong for you. From enthusiastic herd followers pushing you toward the latest, greatest, newest fad "guaranteed" to elevate your success, to "experts" who guide only from what they've personally experienced, we can get off track.
The key, then, is to prepare for it. First, accept that like my GPS, plausible directions toward a desired destination don't always lead where you want to go. Your talents and circumstances are your own. Some people claim if you do what successful people do, you'll become successful, too. But you're not those people. Following them, doing what they do, may or may not work for you even if it works for others.
Second, understand the reality that there are many paths to success, whatever "success" looks like to you. There are numerous ways to achieve the same outcome or get you where you want to be. The right way is the way that's right for you. The input and directions you'll need are unlikely the same as what your friends, significant others, or professional colleagues may need.
Third, develop your inner-GPS. People who are winning at working understand that not every coach, advisor, boss, colleague, or resource is dependable, reliable, or useful for them, well-meaning or otherwise. People who are winning at working stay connected to an inner guidance system that helps them stay on track.
They stay aligned with their values, best-of-self characteristics, strengths, personality, passions, and dreams by allowing their inner-GPS to ground them in who they are, what they want, and what they're willing to do, learn, and focus on to get where they want to go.
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