This has honestly been one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.
It came from my Dad. One day when I was 12 years old, I was complaining to him about netball and how my coach kept putting me in the Wing Attack position and never letting me play in goals. He asked me, “Have you ever asked her if you can have a turn in goals?” “No”, I replied.
“You don’t ask, you don’t get”.
So the next practice, I went up to my coach and asked her nicely to let me try playing as a goaler. Not only did she put me in Goal Shooter for that weekend’s match, but she also spent half an hour after training taking me through the best way to shoot. Now 15 years later, I’m still happily playing Goal Attack (once we realised I’m too ‘Type A’ for a Goal Shooter!)
Fight the fear
Since I was given that advice I’ve tried to apply it in all aspects of my life, but most particularly in my career. I also think that in the context of your career, asking for something can seem extraordinarily difficult.
It’s not as hard to ask your partner for more quality time together, because they are on equal footing with you. There is however an inherent worry about asking your boss for a pay rise or a particular opportunity because there is a power gap between the two of you. What if they make my life miserable for having the audacity to ask for this? They could do it!
The important thing to remember in these moments is the difference between “could” and “would”.
Anecdotally my experience with various managers is that they are actual human beings and want to help! It’s hard though to give someone what they want when they’ve never told you what that is.
It’s your career – own it!
I think sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that their future career and development is all in the power of their boss. They’re the ones who call you in for the annual performance review and they’re the ones who promote you and give you new opportunities.
This can make you feel like everything that happens to you is the luck of the draw. If you have a terrible boss, then no opportunities are coming your way right?
No one maps out your future for you in every other aspect of your life. No one tells you if or who you’re going to get married to. No one can make you have children. So why would you let someone else be in charge of the future of your career?
You should be the one with a roadmap for what your career is going to look like – more particularly in this day and age where you don’t stay at a single company for all of your professional career.
It’s not to say that you have to have every moment of the next 40 years of your work life mapped out, but it is having a plan in place for the next 5 years. There’s nothing wrong with the plan changing if your wants and needs change. But if there’s nowhere to steer the ship towards, you’re just going to ride the waves of what your boss wants and needs.
If your boss doesn’t make the effort or doesn’t have the time to discuss your career path with you – book in the meeting yourself. Tell them what you want the next steps in your career to be. They might not be able to give you everything you want, but they should be able to at the very least give you advice.
Tell them exactly what you want
This leads into my next point – be specific about what you want. If you go into your manager’s office and say “I want to be a CEO” when you are currently the receptionist, they’re going to have very little idea of how to help you.
If you want more opportunities at work, you need to be more specific about what those opportunities are. If you just vaguely ask for opportunities, your manager is not going to be sure which ones to kick your way. Think about what goal the opportunities are feeding towards. Is the goal to work in people management, so you’d like to mentor the new starter? Or are you wanting to get more experience leading meetings?
Make it simple for your manager to give you what you want. It’s not their job to discern what your goals and career aspirations are. You need to let them know. A good manager will ask you, but if they don’t – it’s up to you to tell them.