Create Success

A simple question to create a successful STEM career

As women with STEM careers, we can get very busy doing our jobs and forget to create a successful career.  Our jobs are very demanding.  Our personal lives are demanding.  Our plates are quite full.  And because of this, it is very easy for the investment in a successful career to fall off our plate.

In a recent interview, Megan Gilgan posed a simple question that has a lot of power behind it. Quite simply, she asked

“What have you done this month to widen your horizons?”

To be able to see the power behind this simple question, I’m going to ask you to let go of any of the negative internal thoughts that might have surfaced when you read this question.  Such as “I’ve been really busy…” or “Wait, I have to be doing this now too?”

These are legitimate responses.  I have had them myself, even as recently as a week ago when I saw the interview.  So let’s acknowledge their presence, wave them on, and now go a little deeper to find the power in this question.

Let’s get back to that plate analogy. Consistently widening our horizons allows us to see the buffet beyond the current plate in our hands. It allows us to know when opportunities are available to us. It enables to keep our minds open to what we can achieve and contribute. If we remove our blinders and get a less myopic view of our careers, then the world becomes our oyster so to speak.

In my work as a career coach, I have seen what happens to women in STEM who forget to look up from the jobs they are working so hard at. We get burned out and wonder what other jobs we could do that felt more meaningful. We feel stuck because we are working really hard without seemingly going anywhere. Here are two archetypes of clients I have helped.

The Indispensable Good Managers 

We go in every day, we work, we nurture our team, we deliver results.  We become indispensable to our team and our bosses.  As indispensable good managers, we can also be considered too valuable to promote or, surprisingly, not interested in leading. Our peers and direct reports promote and move on to new positions. We think about leaving but we can’t, because our team needs us.  Sound familiar?

Overwhelmed Tenure Trackers

We go in every day, we work, we nurture our students, we deliver publications, patents, serve on committees, and teach.  We become slaves to our calendar and the demands for our time never stop.  We are told we will be promoted based on our achievements and contributions but it is hard to find the bandwidth to find the next innovative thought.  We find ourselves in a trap of incremental work and fear it won’t be enough for promotion. Sound familiar?

Find a balance between doing our jobs and creating the successful STEM careers we want.

It all comes back to this simple, powerful question based on Megan Gilgan’s reflective thought:

A question to create a successful STEM career - What will you do this month to expand your horizons?
What will you do this month to expand your horizons? Take this image as a gentle reminder to invest in your career as you do your job.

Think of this as investment in yourself

Consistency is key here. Every month, put in the time to widen your horizons.  Put it on your calendar and PTS (PTS is code for protect that sh*t to us here at Pathmakers Coaching)! Create a recurring event on your calendar. And when that date comes – do for ourselves what we always do for others – show up, work hard, nurture ourselves, and deliver results.

Do for ourselves what we always do for others – show up, work hard, nurture ourselves, and deliver results.

Dr. Kelli Hendrickson, Career Coach

Now that you’ve created that recurring event… what does it mean to widen your horizons?  Here are some thoughts to get you started.

  • Have a planning meeting with yourself – ask what it is you are trying to achieve long term and what do you need to achieve it.
  • Network with 3 people who can help you now or in the future, ask them how you can help them
  • Read something to inspire you, you never know where that might lead. My latest recommendation: Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad

You can create a successful STEM career by asking a simple question

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. As a woman in STEM working in higher education who wants a more successful career, what will you do to widen your horizons?

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