What does it take to advance your career?
Knowledge? Absolutely. Skills? Most definitely. But there is another element, one so important that without it, knowledge and skills lie dormant: Action.
In my experience, the ability to take action sits firmly on the foundation of a strong mindset. Consider these scenarios:
Have you wanted to answer a question at work that you were sure you knew the answer to, but doubt crept in and you remained silent?
Perhaps you were in a team meeting and wanted to put yourself forward for an exciting opportunity, but instead shrunk away?
Or maybe you were part of a new, exciting project, however, felt unworthy of being there. So instead of actively contributing, you sat frozen with imposter syndrome.
You are not alone. Last year, I spoke to many people within the SEO industry about their biggest struggles. They talked about the difficulty in progressing their career, improving their salary, saying yes to opportunities, or even speaking up in meetings. As we peeled away the layers to the real problem, the issues ran deep. Lack of confidence, imposter syndrome, and a less than empowering self-image or lack of self-esteem.
Organizations allocate vast amounts of resources to create environments that encourage development and a sense of belonging. And in the ever-changing landscape of the SEO industry, continuous learning is key. There is a wealth of available knowledge to tap into, all aimed at improving skills, be it analytical, technical, content, etc. All of these are hugely important. I’ve been involved in these educational initiatives myself, and know how passionate all those involved are about helping colleagues grow, thrive, and feel fulfilled in their careers.
But the impact of these are not effective if employees have a limited sense of self, if confidence to speak out is lacking, or if self-belief is elusive. Only 4% of the respondents from the 2021 State of the Workplace survey said they feel fully confident at work. Without tackling these confidence issues, can anyone really reach their full potential?
My personal journey to self-belief
For many years, I, too, was lost in this maze of learning, with little belief that I could truly embrace opportunities. As a student, I self-sabotaged myself after being dubbed a “bad student” and failed most of my exams. But by 33, thanks to the help and support of great friends and lecturers, I graduated with a first-class degree as a mother of two. At 40, I was a single mum, afraid to speak publicly, but thanks to a supportive manager, by my 50s I was speaking at BrightonSEO in front of hundreds.
Yet, I knew I was capable of more. I wanted to teach others the lessons and tools that had helped me, so, I took the bold step of hiring a coach. He encouraged me to build my mindset, self-belief, and high-performance habits.
And it worked. Now at 54, I’ve started my own coaching business, and have launched my own course, Reflect, Recharge, Relive. I also co-host The SEO Mindset Podcast with Sarah McDowell, and we are building a course based on the podcast to help people in the industry optimize their SEO careers. I run workshops to help teenagers with their confidence and self-belief, and am writing a book (aren’t we all!).
But most importantly, I have the self-belief that I can do anything I set my mind to.
Below, I’ll share the process I went through that took me from self-doubt to empowerment. I will also share some actionable tips to help change your mind about what you can achieve.
Understand your algorithm
A big part of the SEO world is understanding search engine algorithms. Each update is followed by a flurry of activity to find out what has changed. Why the updates? To serve the user better, add value, give them a better experience, and provide the desired result easier and quicker.
But what about your own inner algorithm? Do you understand it? Know what you do in certain contexts, such as when collaborating with others, or handling difficult situations. How often do you test and assess your behavior with the aim to update those behaviors, thus updating your algorithm to serve your career better?
Get to know yourself better than anyone by reflecting and journaling. Give yourself time, even 15 minutes a day, in a quiet place with no distractions to ask yourself questions and write down your thoughts and feelings. With questions come answers, and with answers comes clarity. Get clear about what will give you a better career development experience:
Reflect on what is important to you, on what you want to achieve, and what is holding you back. Is it presenting or writing more? Do you want to work with people more, or is your energy better spent working on your own?
Reflect on how you handle situations and what habits are not serving you. Be honest with yourself, and where you can be better. What happens when things don’t go your way? Are you able to empathize with others?
Build empowering beliefs
Tony Robbins has a simple, but effective, success model showing the relationship between beliefs, potential, actions and results. Your beliefs determine how much of your potential you tap into. This potential, in turn, determines the actions you take, and of course these actions determine your results. The cycle continues as these results further shape your beliefs.
At 18, I believed I was a “bad student”. I certainly didn’t use all my potential because I didn’t see the point, and therefore didn’t study well. My results were awful, which made sense, because I was a “bad student” — a label that was someone else’s opinion of me, that I chose to accept.
In my 30s, however, I worked on crushing this belief. I was a hard worker. I was capable. I was studious. I was a successful student. Repeating all these new beliefs meant I tapped into more of my potential, studied harder, and was rewarded with the highest grade possible. The cycle continued, and my beliefs grew stronger.
If you are looking to improve your career, but are struggling, or there is a challenge you cannot overcome, there may be a limiting belief that is blocking you. These limiting beliefs are often embedded in your brain’s circuitry from earlier years. The great thing is that you can reprogram your mind, and you can begin by thinking.
Start with the baseline that human potential is unlimited. Look at your role models and what they have accomplished.. You have the potential to do great things, too, but you have to believe:
Notice what thoughts are holding you back. What are you saying to yourself? For me, it was thoughts such as, “I am not good enough”, “Who am I to coach anyone”, or “I am not an expert”.
Ask yourself what evidence you have to back up these thoughts. Often, there is none.
Craft out more empowering thoughts that help you achieve your career goals. Repeat these to yourself daily. I say them to myself during my meditation practice in the morning.
Imagine yourself tackling your challenges. See yourself facing them, going through the work, learning the skill, stepping up to the opportunity, and allow yourself to feel how it would feel.
This sequence of thinking the process through, saying the empowering words, seeing yourself live through it, and feeling how it feels, is so important, as it begins the process of rewiring your mind.
Think of yourself as an entrepreneur
Imagine you were an entrepreneur starting a business. You would strategize and plan your vision, what needs to go into your mission statement, your goals for the next 3, 6, 12 months.
Often, when we’re employed, these goals are the business’s goals, which we mold ourselves to. Nothing wrong in that, as these have to be met.
However, alongside that, have you taken the time to strategize the goals for your own life? By thinking about yourself in this way, you are taking ownership, and are no longer the victim of someone else’s goals for you. When you take ownership, the power is with you to choose your path, to make choices in line with where you are heading, and with this comes fulfillment and confidence.
Take time out, at least once a year, to take stock. What is going well in your career, and what could be better? What do you want to achieve in the next year and what skills will you need to learn?
Find the resources you need to learn these skills, be it a course/book/person. Build your curriculum. Talk to your manager – there may be some overlap between your goals and the company goals, so you can link the learning plan together.
Create a timetable – when are you going to learn these skills? Set small milestones.
Be consistent. Do something, no matter how small, but do it daily. These small accomplishments each day add up.
Find a coach/mentor/accountability partner and arrange to go through your progress at least once a month.
Tie your self-esteem to being a learner
Often, our self-esteem is based on other people’s opinions, like our manager’s assessment of how well we do at work. But their opinions are external factors out of our control, and when we base our self-esteem on them, that makes us vulnerable to harm when things turn negative.
But what if there was a way of linking self-esteem to something within our control, something that we could do every day, like learning?.
Decide what you want to learn. This could be tied to your career development learning, or maybe a hobby or personal endeavor.
Every day, do something towards this learning goal, be it reading, writing, doing an online class, etc. At the end of the day, preferably in your journal, ask yourself: “What did I learn today?” and write down the answer.
You have now created a loop for yourself where every day you know you are getting better in some way, at something. Every day you are re-enforcing your growth – and by writing the progress in your journal, it becomes a record of how far you have come.
Take action, and venture out of your comfort zone
All this thinking, learning, reflecting, and journaling is hugely valuable. However, the aim of it all is that you take action – that is what will progress your career.
Now is the time to do something, preferably something you haven’t done before. Give a talk, take the lead, present some findings. Will it take you out of your comfort zone? Absolutely! That’s the idea.
Rename the comfort zone. We often talk about “stepping out of our comfort zone”, but what is this other zone called that we step into? Does it even have a name? Most of us feel like this unnamed space is scary. A place many avoid, where we have to push ourselves to go, desperately wanting to return to “comfort”.
What if, instead, “comfort zone” became “rest zone”, and outside the rest zone became something like “learning zone”, “growth zone”, or “progression zone”?
Notice how none of these new names allow for perfectionism. Let perfection go – it really is a way of keeping you stuck, silent, not saying what you need to say and not doing what you need to do for fear of not being perfect. Instead, embrace “good-enoughism”, because that is what will advance your growth in this newly named zone.
And remember, version 1 is better than version 0.
Look after your energy and recharge…daily
We charge our phones daily so that they work for us when we need them. But how often do we recharge ourselves? Our minds are the vehicles that will take us forward, but they will only be able to do so if we look after them.
Listen to your inner world, or the conversations that you have with yourself. Catch yourself being negative in your thought processes. This dialogue will limit what you believe you can do and be.
Change these to words of positivity and affirmation of your limitless potential, words that will boost your belief and attitude. Start your day with these words, affirming who you want to be and what you want to believe.
I am confident.
I am strong.
I am healthy.
I am knowledgeable.
I am creative.
I am solution-focused.
I am a learner.
I am getting better every day.
Now look at your outer world. Who are the people discouraging you, telling you it isn’t possible? Minimize contact with them as much as possible and instead surround yourself with people who help you feel charged and who will help you grow.
Finally, incorporate self-care into your schedule, especially in the form of movement. Yoga, sports, even just walking all are great for the purpose of exercise, but also help still the mind and relieve stress.
Look, I’m not saying there are no hardships in life, and working on your career will indeed have challenges. But if you have the view that it is all bad, people are bad, opportunities are non-existent, failure is certain, and nothing ever works, then why would you try anything new?
The truth is that we often see the worst in people and believe in the worst possible scenario. This is a distorted view, one that doesn’t serve us or help us advance. And in my experience, most people are good most of the time. Colleagues and managers want us to do well in the same way we want others to succeed.
Cheer others on but grab the opportunities, too, with optimism. If nothing else, every opportunity has the ability to teach us something that will help us grow.
Next time you’re in one of these situations, think of all the possible outcomes and pick the best one. Perhaps it is an opportunity to work on a new project, or apply for a promotion. Let yourself feel excited about the possibilities and what you could achieve.
Think of not what you’ll lose, but all that you will gain. What skills will you learn or improve on?
Finally, offer to help others. Reach out, build relationships, or teach others a skill. Build goodwill and your reputation for being optimistic and generous.
There is no one thing that leads to an optimized career, because success means different things to different people. Keep an open mind, follow the action points, try doing different things, and be consistent.
Consistency is key, even if it is a small step each day. Commit to building the habits that will move you towards your new you. These new habits will weave themselves into a new way of life that will reap results for you.
By taking these steps, your self-awareness and self-esteem will grow, and your beliefs will be more empowering. You’ll feel charged and optimistic, and your confidence will lead you to take action that previously you may have avoided.
More than that, you will feel in control, and will begin to build a better you, who will then show up in every area of your life — your newly optimized life.