17 Lessons From 2017

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At the end of the year, it’s tempting to focus solely on what’s going to happen next. Before you move forward full speed ahead into the new year and new resolutions, take a moment to reflect on some of the triumphs, failures, mistakes and resets you’ve gone through this year. What did you learn? How did you grow? Whatever career changes you went through this year, you didn’t go through them alone. Here are 17 of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in 2017, alongside Parachuters who are figuring it out one step at a time, just like you.

1. Inertia is powerful. After 7 years of stagnation in her job, feeling woefully stuck and undervalued, one client wondered if she would ever find a way out. She convinced herself that the obstacles on the way towards building the career she imagined were impassable. Where she should have seen opportunities she saw only brick walls. Questions of how to manage finances without a steady income, how to leave without burning bridges, and knowing what exactly she wanted to do next seemed too overwhelming to even begin contemplating. Without a firm push forward, she may have accepted her fate and stayed paralyzed at a job she hated forever. Instead, we worked together to take the first small steps towards her new career. With each step, the path forward became more clear, and the walls came down, brick by brick.

2. Momentum is even more powerful than inertia. A body in motion stays in motion, and once you get started, the momentum will pick up and a plan will take shape. Once clients start working through the problem bit by bit, they find doors opening and opportunities flowing. Within 3 months, the client from lesson #1 had a new position, loads of weight off her shoulders, and an entirely new outlook on her career and her strength.

3. Once you leap, you never look back. One client was stuck in a rut of working meaningless jobs while she pursued her real dream of writing on the side. Together, we took a deeper look at why she was accepting these positions when she had identified her passion in another area. Over the course of coaching, we worked to overcome her fear of failure, and created a plan to accomplish her goal of traveling through the national parks, freelancing and working on her book. It took eight months of preparation, deep focus, and hard work to save the money, create her route, and make the lifestyle changes she needed to. But she was ready. She dove in, and hasn’t looked back. Her opportunities and life experiences have boomed. The draft of her first book is nearing completion, and she’s created a photo journal that is publishable in and of itself. The stakes were high and the jump was scary, but the reward was so worth it.


4.  Sometimes the person you’re most afraid to talk to is the one who can offer you the most. A client came to Parachute when she had reached a difficult crossroads. She felt compelled to move to the west coast to be with her family, but was loathe to leave behind the senior position that she had worked so hard to attain in DC. Not only was the title good, but the mission of the organization and her role within it satisfied many of her interests, goals, and needs. Moving to a smaller city with fewer opportunities that aligned with her career goals and values, she worried she would have to make the decision between the family she loved and the career she adored. When she finally gathered her courage to discuss moving with her boss, she found an unexpected solution. It turned out that her boss was very open to starting a west coast branch of her organization. She was able to make the move, stay with her company, and get a raise in the process. Now her address and her career are exactly as she wants them.  

5. Making assumptions is a dangerous game. Many of my clients, particularly the female ones, have difficulty accurately assessing their self-worth. They assume that they aren’t qualified for a job, or that they haven’t worked hard enough to get a raise. Oftentimes, their male counterparts are getting further ahead in their career because they just ask for it. Never assume that you’re less that what you are.

6. Trusting in the reputation you’ve built can open a zillion doors. A client came to me in tears, stressed to the breaking point about a pivotal decision. Would she take a leap of faith and go after her dream job, or stay with the employer who had nurtured her? Throw into mix the dilemma that so many DC career people face: depending on the results of the election, the dream job might not even be there in a month. She could chase her dreams and be left with nothing. Instead of jumping blindly, she recognized that she needed to do something infinitely scarier: to have a frank discussion about the situation with her boss. When she recognized her value and how committed her employer was to her, she was able to have a productive, confident conversation about her choices. Her employer supported her choice to go after the new opportunity, but also explained she was welcome back with open arms if it didn’t work out. With reinforced support and a boost in confidence, she spread her wings and took the leap.

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7. There are many different currencies in life -- money is only one. A Chief Marketing Officer reached out in desperation. She had finally gotten the leadership position that she had worked towards her entire career. Instead of being happy, she found that the title, the money, and the power weren’t worth what she was giving up: time. She missed having time to herself and time with her family. We took a hard look at what was really important to her at this point in her life, and used those values to define the search for her next career move. Instead of seeking roles with big dollars and big titles, time and mission are her #1 currencies.

8. There is no substitute for hard work. Simple as that. When building the career you want, there is really no way to get around doing the hard work. Being a hard worker means putting in the mental energy to understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It means getting things done, even when you don’t want to. People are able to recognize a hard worker. It shows in the polish of their presentations, in the superior wording in their reports. One client came to me feeling overwhelmed after starting a new job. We figured out a strategy and she put in the work. Now she is thriving, is doing exactly the work she had imagined, and doing it well. Hard work pays off, and there is no shortcut for it.

9. The stuff you do outside of work matters (and grows your skills). While trying to transition into a different career path, one client came to me in frustration. How was she supposed to prove that she could perform in the new job, when her old job didn’t give her any opportunities to grow?! It turned out she needed to look at the situation differently. When she focused her free time on growing her skill set towards the field she wanted to be in, opportunities presented themselves. She found a community of people who were interested in what she wanted to know, and mentors who helped her transition into the next phase. While her old job kept her anchored, spending time on her true interests was the catalyst to career growth.


10. Your colleagues' careers grow simultaneously with yours -- stay in touch and don’t burn bridges. When leaving a job or a field which made you feel miserable, it can be tempting to light a match as you walk away, and let the people in your office know exactly how you felt mistreated. While constructive criticism in an exit interview is appropriate, it is important to remember that the working world is smaller than you might think. There’s always a possibility you will work with one or more of your co-workers again. Even if you don’t see them directly, they are people who can potentially speak to your character, your teamwork, and your work ethic. Their opinion might just make our break your career moving forward, so stay cordial and stay in touch.

11. Every team is a collection of talents -- some known, some hidden. The responsibility of a good leader is to empower their team to perform to the best of their abilities. Sometimes, this takes a little more insight than usual, as one client who recently gained a leadership position found out. By spending more personal time with her team, she was able to identify a member who could step out of the box they were hired for and move a project along. Seeing your team members as whole people, with multiple strengths, talents, and abilities creates surprising results.

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12. Planning leads to more certainty but big decisions almost always require some leap of faith. I love to plan, so I understand the tendency of many of my clients to want to come in, figure out what their career path should be, and create a roadmap to get there, all in one session. The reality is that figuring out the right career is a life-long process. You can strategize for a year or five years ahead, but it is impossible to guess how your field will evolve, what opportunities will appear, or what your life priorities will be in the future. The best you can do is aim to live in a way that aligns with the values you have now, and to continue to learn, grow, and develop your skills so that you’ll be ready for whatever comes next.

13. Attitude matters. Always. No matter how talented you are. One talented leader came to Parachute after multiple failed projects. She felt miserable, and wallowed for too long in the few mistakes that marred her history of success. Instead of looking for solutions or reaching out for help, she internalized those failures and thought that she might as well give up. But nothing is hopeless. With an outside perspective, she realized how she could reposition herself to better use her talents. More importantly, she learned to own her responsibility for her career, and took a proactive step forward with a strategy and a more optimistic outlook.

14. There is a compelling story for every career transition. If you know your story and learn to tell it in a way that is engaging, you will be able to persuade hiring managers to give you a chance in a new field. That was the case for countless clients this year. Each of them wanted to switch into new fields -- they didn't have a ton of experience in those new fields, but they did have a ton of passion. By zoning in on the transferable skill sets they had, and creating a story about their passion for the work, they successfully transitioned and are now working in careers that they love.


15. If you wait for certainty, you’ll be waiting forever. You want to make smart choices. You want to make well-informed choices. But if you wait too long to decide, decisions will get made for you. Allowing life to happen to you instead of actively forging your own path is sure to lead to missed opportunities. Have confidence knowing that you are walking your own path; it's so much better than walking someone else's.

16. Nobody cares as much as about your career as you do. At the end of the day, taking a risk that aligns with your values will bring you more contentment than playing it safe or doing what someone else expects of you. Listen carefully to the words of your friends, mentors, and colleagues. They can give you valuable information. But the ultimate decision is yours. You are the one who will live with the consequences of your decisions-- and the regret that comes from not listening to your heart.

17. Keep looking forward! While reflecting is good, the only place to apply the insights you gain from introspection or the stories of others is in your own future. Think about what you want 2018 to be and go for it!

Look Ahead
Lauren Laitin