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Career Success Demands Coloring Outside the Lines

Article Source: SmartBrief

Creative light bulb explodes with colorful paint splashes.

I was expelled from preschool for an art infraction. Even at that young age, I had my own vision of the world (and it didn’t include trees that looked like green balls on brown sticks.) When I wouldn’t redraw my version in the likeness of my teacher’s, my mother was called and informed that she’d need to find a new school.

As painful as that experience at four years old was, it’s served me well. I learned early on that freedom of expression is a deep human need and over time I’ve discovered that it plays out in all of life’s domains including – and maybe especially – our careers.  In my work over three decades helping organizations and leaders, I’ve consistently noticed that the careers that remain most relevant and fulfilling over time have at least one thing in common: their ‘artists’ take creative license and freely color outside of the traditional lines.

Career artists apply their own creative process.

Child dipping fingers in paint, creating a vibrant mural of handprints on canvas

Those who report the greatest success and satisfaction within their careers tend to do things a little differently. They apply novel brush strokes to processes as they strive for elevated outcomes. They uncover opportunities and offer necessary innovations. They freely experiment, take risks, and learn from failure. They approach the work a little (or a lot) differently than others. And in the process of coloring outside the lines, they deliver differentiated results that fuel business needs, feed their artistic spirit, and distinguish them in their field.

Want to start coloring outside the lines in terms of your approach to work? Ask yourself:

  • Where am I too rigidly relying on rules/processes?
  • Where could a small change spark greater personal engagement and potentially distinctive results?

Career artists leverage the full canvas.

In addition to approaching our work with creativity, we can also enjoy greater satisfaction and success with a ‘color outside the lines’ career advancement mindset. Many of us have been lulled into an ‘onward and upward’ approach to career development and progression, waiting (and expecting) to be routinely invited up yet another rung on the corporate ladder. But given flatter, leaner organizations and the organic nature of work, the world doesn’t operate in this kind of ‘paint by numbers’ way any longer.

With fewer and fainter lines on the org chart, today we must think outside of the traditional box – and color outside of the traditional lines – to enjoy the growth and progress previously punctuated by promotions. This means embracing non-linear trajectories and movement in all directions. New and effective patterns, relationships, and experiences frequently emerge from taking sideways (lateral) steps. Backing off and assuming a role traditionally considered ‘lower’ can offer opportunities to achieve greater balance, hone skills, and prepare for what’s next. Organic, non-linear movement is more accessible – and may be more appropriate for many – than the stairway to the top.

Additionally, as a result of the pandemic, world events, and record levels of burnout, many are looking for their careers to deliver more than just that next title. My own global research finds that people are more interested in achieving greater contribution, competence, contentment, confidence, challenge, connection, and choice than they are in promotions or climbing the corporate ladder. (This multidimensional career framework and the research are detailed in my book, Promotions Are SO Yesterday.)

Combined with a sense of directional freedom, these broader strokes or definitions of success allow career artists to use the biggest possible canvas to create the development and satisfaction they desire.

Want to start coloring outside the lines in terms of career moves? Ask yourself:

  • How does my mindset about what my career or success ‘should’ look like get in the way of creating a vibrant, successful masterpiece?
  • What career goals do I have beyond attaining a certain level or title?

Career artists construct colorful roles.

How do you view your current role? For many of us, it’s a 2-dimensional, black-and-white drawing, a set of boundaries imposed upon us, an endless series of tasks and priorities to be addressed. Career artists use their job description as nothing more than a first sketch to be drawn over, enhanced, colorized, and further embellished with their creative flare.

If you’re looking to paint a more vibrant career experience, consider viewing the activities of your current job as a starting point. Then, as you master the tasks and deliver results, consider what else could be invited into that experience to give it more texture, depth, and richness. Additional challenges. Special projects. Mutual mentorship (giving and/or receiving). Volunteer assignments. These allow you to color outside of the lines of your current job description in a way that satisfies creative yearnings and encourages growth – on your terms and in your current role.

Want to start coloring outside the lines of your current role? Ask yourself:

  • What do I wish I could do more of in my current role?
  • What kinds of experiences might inspire me to feel more engaged and excited about the work I’m doing?

You don’t have to have a creative bone in your body to apply artistry to your career. What is needed, however, is a commitment to looking at your work, goals, and role through a different lens – one that’s not limited by the way things have always been done. Your unique interpretation and personal expression are all that’s needed to create the priceless masterpiece that is your career.

This post originally appeared on SmartBrief