There is a bench situated under the First Canadian Place office tower in Toronto, just east of the York and Adelaide intersection, where work-weary Bay Street brightest rest their feet while inhaling yet another espresso. Every time I pass by, it sends me back to my junior days, when I spent many a coffee break there, networking and trying to claw my way towards a stable career.
With that end in mind, I read a copious number of books, articles and websites on career development and satisfaction, and I spoke to anyone who would answer my emails about how they did it. Yet, despite my dutiful and diligent research, the collective wisdom of my findings was not a clear plan of action. In the end, the person I really had to talk to was myself: What did I want to be or do or represent? The rest would follow.
As you search for your career sweet spot, here are some of the overarching lessons I have learned.
- Discover yourself (though it may prove a hard endeavour). Spending years in school, potentially accumulating a high debt, takes away the luxury of self-discovery. However, I highly recommend doing this step as early as possible. Personality tests, meetings with recruiters, conversations with a mentor or sponsor (or parent)—do whatever helps you answer basic questions like your strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and goals.
- Understand your values. This is probably a reflection of millennialism, but I strongly feel our values determine where we will be successful. Knowing what is important to you as a person inspires the passion around what you do as legal counsel and guides the rest of your career.
- Identify your priorities. I remember a feeling of profound sadness after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. “This woman was just too perfect,” I thought. “I can’t possibly lean in as far as she did. I can barely manage to lean slightly to the right on a good day!” I felt like an unskilled busker as I tried to balance family, work and many other priorities.
I have (begrudgingly) come to accept it is not possible to have everything all at once. You can win many—but not all—your battles. So choose your priorities wisely and focus on the one or two things that will set you up for the next step in your career.
- Listen and learn. Unfortunately, listening carefully and internalizing that knowledge, as opposed to simply hearing, has become a dying art. Yet, if you can do this well, you can learn a great deal from your colleagues, leaders and team members, and create a database of personal analytics that you can apply to your own life. Armed with this database, you will be better prepared for your next role or making a tough decision about a work matter.
- The destination is the journey. One of the best advice I ever got was to review my goals every five years. As professionals, while we may think we are constantly focused on growth and able to nimbly navigate our careers, it’s easy to unwittingly get stuck in one place. An extremely worthwhile practice is to review your goals and objectives at regular intervals to ensure you are still happy with the path you’re on—and, if not, what do you need to do to make a change?
Alena Thouin is Corporate Secretary & Deputy General Counsel at the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario. She is active on various legal industry and practice groups, sits on a number of voluntary Boards, and is passionate about supporting initiatives that promote diversity, inclusion and women in leadership positions. Connect with her on LinkedIn.