Navigating Toward Career Advancement

Issue 8 and Volume 12.

No matter where you are at in your career, you can always work toward moving to the next step on the ladder. Moving ahead in life, or in anything, is much easier with a well-laid plan. The journey is also much easier when you have a standard set of operating guidelines for how you live life. Here are some helpful life standard operating guidelines to help direct you to advancement – both on and off the job.

Your Past Does Not Determine Your Future

During my years working as a counselor in mental health and addiction services, my clients often thought their destiny was solely based on their past. They truly believed their childhood environments and personal past choices were the absolute factors in determining their future success in life. What many needed to learn is, while your past influences your future, it is the right here and now that determines where you end up. Let today be the day that you decide you are destined for greatness. Maybe you have not been the greatest employee or your skill level just isn’t where it needs to be. Maybe what’s keeping you from succeeding on the job is being physically unfit for duty, a battle with addiction, or suffering from mental health issues. Regardless of your personal battles, you have the power to make today the day you steer your life in a new direction.

If you have been identified as a poor performing firefighter, or personally know you are not excelling as fast as your peers, decide right now that you will work toward becoming a high-achieving employee. Meet with your leaders and ask them in which areas you need to improve. Ask what advice they can provide on how to make those improvements. Let leaders know you are on a mission for growth and need assistance with mapping out your journey. Good leaders don’t want to see their people fail; they often view that failure as a reflection on them. Most leaders are willing to help guide employees and connect them with resources needed for employee success. You just need to take the step and ask for help.

Those who struggle with mental health and addiction issues often create an invisible barrier to seeking help. They feel they can’t ask for help because of the stigma that comes with such disorders. What they need to realize is everyone goes through struggles at one point or another. They also need to understand that a firefighter with mental health and substance abuse disorders working toward improvement is no different than an obese firefighter struggling to get to a healthy weight. All need some form of assistance to be fit for duty. A firefighter working to become physically fit may need the assistance of a personal trainer and nutritionist for accountability, guidance, and support. A firefighter with either mental health or addiction issues may need the assistance of a therapist and other resources to learn healthy ways to cope, be held accountable, and get support. Just like we don’t fight fires alone, we do not have to fight personal battles on our own.

No matter what the struggle is that is keeping you from meeting goals, it is not one that you need to fight alone. The day you make the decision to get the necessary support to remove such barriers in your life is the day you start moving toward a new you. Wake up each day and decide, regardless of what happened the day before, today you have control over the personal battles in your life and will recruit whatever resources you need to overcome those challenges. Your past does not get to define who you want to be, nor does it decide where you will end up. The choices you make today will determine where you advance to in life. Start making ones that count toward your career advancement.

Create Your Own CLUB OF “Elected Officials”

I had a professor back in college who challenged us to take inventory of who was in our inner circle and rate them according to where we wanted to be in life. If we determined the folks in our lives were not people we strived to be like, she challenged us to find some new ones. She encouraged us to remove those in our life who were barriers to happiness and did not support personal goals. I saw this challenge as electing my own personal village council to help guide my life. It was a way to create a space where I felt safe to share ideas, gain support, and engage in healthy debate.

As you navigate your way to career success, decide who you want in your life who can help guide that journey. Cut loose those who are negative and discourage your dreams. Surround yourself with mentors who are willing to transfer knowledge and give you positive feedback. Separate yourself emotionally from those who don’t take their job seriously and have no desire for advancement and growth. Spend time with others with similar goals. Create an unofficial club of your “elected officials.” Meet routinely with these people to hold one another accountable, share opportunities for training, study/train together, and support one another in the journey to self-improvement. The mentors you elect to your village council should be ones who are worthy and whom you can learn from. Mentors not only can help you grow a new skill set but can also help build your reputation. Conferences such as the Fire Department Instructors Conference International are the perfect place to find new people to elect into your life.

Life Isn’t About Being Lucky; It’s About Seizing Opportunities

You often hear people make comments that people who are successful are lucky. Career advancement and accomplishing goals are not based on luck but rather on seizing opportunities and hard work. When an opportunity arises, you need to move quickly before someone else seizes it. Being indecisive can cost you goal advancement.

Successful people also tend to look for opportunities when things are bad. They find a positive in every situation, no matter how negative it is. They don’t let negative triggers hold them back from advancement. Every situation, good or bad, can be used as a learning lesson and an opportunity to grow. Dwelling on misfortune and waiting for your luck to change won’t propel you toward career advancement; making opportunities happen and not hesitating to seize them will.

Conflict Resolution Done Right

There is no doubt that conflict in the workplace will occur – it is inevitable. How you deal with the conflict can be the determining decision between the path to success and the one leading to the status quo. Regardless of how angry someone makes you, end the conversation with class. Acting with class may mean you need to walk away without an exchange of words stemming from angry emotions. Or, you stay and have a conversation without accusations or raising your voice to resolve the conflict. The bottom line is, address conflict professionally and respectfully.

What actions will you take to reach your next career goal? (Image by author.)

Conflict done right in the workplace also means refraining from gossiping to other coworkers about a coworker or leader who angers you. Keep your disagreements and the feelings surrounding them reserved for those directly involved. Being able to refrain from gossip shows loyalty to your coworkers and employer. Learn how to have a conversation with those who you feel have wronged you, and find resolution. This will show leaders that you are focused on resolving issues in the workplace and not drama driven. It will also show your coworkers that you can be trusted and are loyal, no matter what differences you have.

Never Remain Idle

Chasing after goals is a never-ending job, and remaining idle wastes time and opportunities. Do not wait for an opportunity to come to you; chase after it. Develop a game plan of how you are going to achieve your career goals. Does that plan include additional training? Another certification? A new mentor for your village council? The removal of personal barriers that are holding you back? Write down your game plan, and review it weekly to avoid getting off track.

Communicate with leadership about your game plan, and ask for input on how you can achieve the desired outcome. Look for opportunities to shadow those who are in the roles you seek. Spend time researching and learning about your goal; become the subject matter expert surrounding your desired outcome. Know what you want, avoid becoming idle, and be willing to work hard to advance.

Cherish Your Relationships and Dignity

Be loyal to those who support you. Always put friends before politics, and show kindness to all. Abiding by your moral compass should always come before popularity. At the end of the day, doing the right thing will always lead to respect and opportunities for advancement.

Be transparent in all relationships. When you make a mistake, go to leaders and own the mistake. Also, take to your leaders a self-developed corrective action plan to prevent the mistake from occurring again. Being transparent means you have nothing to hide. It also means those mistakes won’t sneak up on you at a later point in your journey to advancement because you already addressed them when they happened.

You can even cherish the relationships with those who have wronged you. Analyze why those relationships are damaged, where they went wrong, and what you could do differently going forward. Did you need to respond differently to the situation to prevent the relationship from going south? Do you need to have stronger boundaries in your life to prevent being wronged? Could you have handled the conflict better? Is it time to let go of the grudges you are holding onto? Grudges and relationships in turmoil can be roadblocks to career advancement. Learn to let go, keep healthy boundaries, and focus that energy on your journey to success.

Be an Advocate and A Fan of Others

Those who are successful and happy know how to advocate and be a fan of others. Learn how to be genuinely happy for those around you who are accomplishing their goals. Don’t be afraid to help others on their journey. Also, don’t use the successful moments of others to promote your own agenda. Make the moment truly about them. Give credit to those who deserve it and have worked hard to get there. Don’t try to steal their moment and ideas or make it about you.

When you have the chance to connect a friend to an opportunity, be that connection. Help others with their game plan and be the best fan you can be. This type of behavior shows leaders and coworkers that you value their needs. A good leader knows how to advocate for the success of their stakeholders, and you don’t have to be in an official leadership position to do just that.

At the end of the day, navigating toward career advancement is a personal decision based on personal actions. Success doesn’t come from luck; it comes from discipline and hard work. It comes from surrounding yourself with the right people, seeking the right training, and being ethical at all times. What actions will you take to reach your next career goal?

Candice McDonald is a firefighter/public information officer with the Sebring (OH) Fire Department and a firefighter/former EMS officer with the Winona (OH) Fire Department and works for NASA in the Office of Protective Services. She is a member of the PennWell Fire Group Advisory Board, co-chair of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association Reputation Management Committee, and an active member of the ResponderSafety.com outreach team and the Great Lakes Trustee for iWomen. McDonald has a doctor of business administration degree with a specialty in homeland security, a master’s in organizational leadership, a bachelor’s in business administration, and an associate’s in health and human services.