Nicole Williams, author of "Girl on Top," is a career expert who advises taking the tactics used to land a man and applying them to your career to help you come out on top. Here, she introduces tried-and-true dating rules and reveals how they can be applied just as effectively in the office. An excerpt.
Chapter one: Follow your heart
I’ve been having a love affair for the past seven years. On some days this love of mine seriously drives me to drink but I never seem to tire of it. It inspires me to be bigger and better than I really am. It’s broken my heart and I’ve felt utter disappointment, but I never want to leave. It’s simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. It continually exposes me to brilliant, outrageous, and engaging people and circumstances. And for good or for bad, it’s always waiting. My true love ... my career.
Having grown up watching my mom hate her job, I have an admittedly obsessive drive to love what I do (and by extension help others get there, too). And while on some days I question whether I’m a wee bit codependent, I never, ever doubt the power of following your heart.
Finding the love of your life It’s the hands-down, number one question I’m asked:
How do I ﬁnd a career I love?
It comes from women new to the game, those slogging it out for way too many years in the wrong career, or even those who are relatively satisfied but wondering if there might be something more.
Some people search their whole lives and never ﬁnd a career they love, some fall into love on day one and are committed for life, and still others fall in love over and over again. I’ve come to believe that just like in our relationships, loving your career has a lot to do with expectations — ultimately you get the love (and the career) you think you deserve. The same friend who has yet to ﬁnd a man worthy of her affections is in and out of jobs as frequently as you apply gloss. I meet women who won’t settle for anything less than rapturous, enduring, passion for their job and others who take a more utilitarian, nine-to-ﬁve approach, working simply because they need to pay the bills (and have a little left over for Blahniks) and want to hit the bar by six.
I remember telling my beloved gramps that I was leaving a “stable” [solid income, 401(k), government-funded, management position] to follow my passion, and he seriously thought I was out of my mind. Having lived through a war and the Great Depression and having raised kids as an immigrant working two jobs, for him the whole concept of “loving” a job was downright ludicrous.
You can sit wherever you want on the love-your-job spectrum, but please know that at the end of the day (which in the majority of cases is somewhere between eight and twelve hours), you’re spending 70 percent of your waking life working and that’s simply too much life to waste wishing the hours away. What’s ludicrous from my perch is sitting around, wasting your potential, and never experiencing or sharing the love. If you haven’t found the love of your life or if you’re still considering other options, here are some places to look.
An arranged marriage
Your mom’s a doctor. Your mom’s dad is a doctor. His father was a doctor. Not necessarily a bad thing to consider a hand-me-down career with an already established client list and sign on the door. Your passion may very well be found in the genes.
Love at ﬁrst sight
It’s hard to believe but some people come out of the womb knowing they were meant to be a photographer ... chef ... ﬂorist. This “knowing” is generally some combination of observation (that looks fun) and instinct (that ﬂower would be perfect right ... there). Take a look around. The love of your life may be right in front of your eyes.
Play the ﬁeld
The downright best way to increase your odds is by getting out there and exploring your options. I meet a lot of women who think (a) their dream career will magically appear without any effort (it won’t), and (b) their ﬁrst choice is the best and only option (it’s not).
Same way you wouldn’t expect to marry the ﬁrst and only guy you ever dated, your long-term career relationship isn’t likely to come on the ﬁrst go-round. Following in my mom’s paint factory footsteps when I was in college, I realized somewhere between mind-numbingly stacking paint cans on a skid and checking out the Playboy centerfolds in the staff lunch room that sometimes you have to experience the wrong relationship to know what you’re looking for in the right one. Sometimes we need exposure to a lot of the wrong options before we land on the right one. Don’t be afraid to play the career ﬁeld. Just remember that — no different than being labeled “easy” in the dating pool — your reputation is everything when it comes to building your career. Feel free to try different jobs on for size in order to ﬁnd your ﬁt, but keep in mind that at the end of the day you need to stick around long enough to deliver. No one likes a tease.
Still can’t decide?
I’m all about keeping the cooks out of the kitchen, especially as you’re exploring your options (everyone will have an opinion) but there does come a point when a little outside perspective is necessary. If you haven’t decided if this is the “one” or have multiple options to consider, it’s time to take this new love of yours out on the town. Over drinks or dinner, introduce your peeps to the varying options and ask for their opinion. Don’t underestimate how well your friends and family know you and how helpful an outside objective perspective can be. Their insight may be invaluable.
Just be wary of the naysayer. This is a true story. Right after I got engaged, I was walking down the street with the last of our still-single friends and told her the good news. She literally dropped to her knees in the street and started crying, “What about me?” Nothing’s more threatening to the lonely, job-hater than the woman who has just gotten her hands on a job she loves.
Phases of Love
As with any kind of love affair, your career development evolves in three distinct phases, each offering different opportunities and challenges.
Phase one: Courting
The whole point of courtship is to explore your options, feel out if there is interest, and decide if you want to take it to the next level.
This is the one stage in the career exploration process that women move through too quickly. Finding a career you love is all about laying a solid foundation, and frankly, it can take some time. Desperate to not be alone (unemployed), way too many women rush into a commitment (ignoring all the warning signs) with the wrong company and a year later they’re back on the streets. Opportunities: You’re not committed, so at this stage it’s all about playing the ﬁeld and exploring ﬁt. This is the perfect time to dig deep and do your research. You have more power than you’d imagine being on the choosing side of the equation. Keep in mind most people are more than willing (delighted even) to talk about themselves, so start chatting them up — you never know where it’s going to lead.
Challenges: They all look delicious, so how do you pick just one? Don’t be paralyzed by the fear of choosing poorly. Like I mentioned above, the wrong career path very often leads to the right one. At some point you need to lay it down and make a choice. Remember: Nothing has to last forever.
Phase two: Dating
At this point an offer has been made, and the same way you would not be amused if your beau was actively looking for other, hotter options, your current employer expects you to have your eye on his prize. This does not suggest, though, that you can’t keep your eyes peeled for other, more interesting options — you can look (go online and see what’s available, have conversations over coffee) but don’t touch (accept an offer) unless you’re truly willing to risk a breakup.
Opportunities: Once you’ve moved into the exclusive phase of your relationship, it’s time to build a more intimate understanding of you as a professional and your industry or employer as a partner. Assess the day-to-day, real-world ﬁt.
Challenges: For months now you’ve been feeling that something’s not right, but the thought of entering a new relationship is more than you can bear. The biggest mistake I see women make is to stay too long in the wrong job or career because they’re afraid not only of the work involved in changing positions, but with the unrealistic fear that there’s nothing better out there. Don’t wait too long to cut your losses if this isn’t “the one.”
Phase three: Marriage/long-term commitment
You’re in. You’ve ﬁnally got that ring on your ﬁnger (the title, the raise, or the corner ofﬁce you’ve been waiting for), and it’s bigger, shinier, and more ﬂauntable than you ever imagined. Though it feels like smooth sailing from here on out, now’s the time for consistent checking and balancing.
Opportunities: You’re ofﬁcially in it for the long haul. You’ve built up enough loyalty, respect, and mutual understanding that you’re stable enough to take risks, push your limits, and grow into new talents. You have an established reputation, and at this phase you can relax a little and let them do some of the work.
Challenges: There are two big potential obstacles to this phase of your relationship: (1) you take it for granted, and (2) you’ve lost the thrill and it loses its appeal. You need to realize not every day is a bed of roses — even in the career of your life — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to cut and run. Bring the passion back with communication, taking risks, and remembering what made you fall in love in the ﬁ rst place.
Bring back the love
It can happen to the best of relationships. Six weeks, six months, six years down the road, the passion is gone and we ﬁnd ourselves griping: “I fell in love with this?” For me it happens at least once a year, usually when I’m jetlagged, brain-dead, and ready for a drink. I ﬁnd myself second-guessing my commitment and asking, “Is this really how I want to spend the rest of my life?” That’s when I know I need to bring back the love.
Using the same formulas for spicing up your love life, you can rekindle the passion for your work and actually start falling in love with your job all over again.
Go back to the way things were
It’s inevitable that the thing you initially loved most about your job is what ends up being the thing you hate. So you wanted autonomy — well you got it ... and now you can’t motivate yourself to get the work done. Or you loved the responsibility ... but now you’ve got so much to do you can’t breathe. We get so caught up in the day-to-day business that we forget why we took this on, and who and what about it is meaningful. Admit that you can’t do this all on your own, ask for help where you need it, and delegate what you’re simply not that great at, and the layers will peel back to reveal what it was that enticed you about this role in the ﬁrst place.
Make time for each other When you’re so busy ﬂying from task to task that you don’t take the time to enjoy what you do, the ﬂame is bound to ﬁzzle. Steal moments of quiet time with the door closed or headphones on (rent a room if you must) so you can really focus. Forget multitasking — concentrate on crossing off one item from your to-do list at a time, and give it your full attention so you can crank out your best work.
Take a reality check
Just like we catch ourselves fantasizing about the hot lifeguard or the strapping ﬁreman in uniform, we have a tendency to wonder if we’d be happier with a different job. What you wouldn’t give for a more ﬂexible schedule, better beneﬁts, an ofﬁce with a no-ass policy . . . The reality is that everyone doesn’t like something about her job (except for those who haven’t been there long enough for the new-love glow to wear off). Talk with others in your industry at different companies, and you’ll probably discover you don’t have it as bad as you thought. Take comfort in their anguish (secretly, of course) and be grateful for the positive aspects of your position. The truth is the grass is always greener no matter where you stand, but you can at least switch up your vantage point. Find an opportunity to challenge yourself, to learn about a different aspect of the business, or to give up the “boss” title for a day — and bring the passion back with a newfound appreciation.
Give, give, give. When you’re in constant “give mode,” burnout comes on full speed. If your career feels like a one-way street, take stock of what you’re getting out of the hours you’re slogging. You’re learning a ton, your skills are improving, you can afford the rent, and you actually like a few of your colleagues. If you’re still feeling cheated, make sure your boss is aware of how you’d prefer to be rewarded for your hard work. (Do you want recognition? To be included in more meetings? A bonus?) Name your need. Just be sure to frame it in terms of all you’re giving in order to be so deserving (demonstration and examples work wonders). The worst they can say is “no,” which every smart girl knows just means “not now.”
My mom has taught me a lot about what I want, and what I don’t want, out of life, but hands down the most invaluable lesson she’s shared with me (after quitting that s----y job) is that you can’t expect someone to love you if you don’t love yourself. I’m totally aware of how incredibly clichéd this sounds, but its application to your career is profound. You and you alone are your biggest career asset and you need to nurture, protect, and invest in yourself with a vengeance. You need to hone and trust your instincts. You need to have standards and never settle for less than what you deserve. If you don’t love you — protect you, promote you, invest in you — your career won’t give you anything back.
Excerpted from "Girl on Top" by Nicole Williams,. Copyright (c) 2009, reprinted with permission from Hachette Book Group.