Make the Most of EVERY Position in Your Career

A few weeks ago, I told you about my first “real” job out of undergrad. I was 21 years old, and working for a large area health system as an administrative assistant in their clinic network.

It may have been my first real gig, but it didn’t pay real well (first-year school teachers were making more than I did), and it didn’t feel like I was undertaking very important work. I was in graduate school full-time, pursuing my master’s degree in healthcare administration. And I felt like I had so much more potential.

Now, it bears noting that I am highly impatient (Activator is the numero uno talent theme on my StrengthsFinder profile). Hence, I am more than certain I was probably quite an obnoxious know-it-all at times.

But, in hindsight, I identify those two years, in that role, to have been invaluable in preparing me for future leadership positions. That experience was prime, rich, fertile learning ground.

You’ve all heard the saying “administrative assistants make the world go ‘round”. Well, while hardly glam, that position afforded me priceless access to learn how physician practices really operate. To see the underpinnings and “guts” of the organization. I was cross trained, and learned or observed first-hand the functions of every role in the practice. I got to know how physicians work, and learn their needs and priorities. I saw how physicians relate to and view healthcare administrators. I also “lived” the group practice; by that, I gained an understanding of the cultural dynamics within these practices—not just how physicians operate, but how they interact with others and how everyone fits together in the bigger picture of the organization. These are the types of things you can’t learn from a textbook or a case study. And, as any of you who have experience working in such an environment know, it’s a very unique culture—with all the joys and headaches that come with any family, because this environment is really a familial one.

I can say all this now in retrospect. But at the time, I was so eager to move on from this role. I was frustrated by the lack of pay and my responsibilities. I wanted more. But, if this experience taught me anything (and it taught me eleventy-seven things), it is that you must make the most of every position you are in.

Here are my tips for being amazing while you’re waiting for the “amazing” opportunity:

  • Make it Happen. Don’t wait for an opportunity that won’t come without any effort. Make the opportunity happen. No one ever got the “perfect” position, the “perfect” office or the “perfect” salary (bearing in mind that “perfect” is all in the eye of the beholder) without making that investment of time and energy. Show up and be stellar at your job. Every day. And, be intentional what you ask for. Leaders don’t just happen. They’re made. 
  • Don’t Wait for Perfect – Make the Most of NOW. Out of the most seemingly unglamorous positions, come some of the greatest learning opportunities. Think of everything you do today as preparation for when you “arrive” as a leader. When you see that goal, you’ll better understand the method behind what from the outset appears to be just pure madness.
  • Take Every Opportunity. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to learn and equip yourself for the future. Volunteer for committee appointments. Offer to take minutes at meetings that you might not otherwise be invited to. Be seen as the can-do kid, and pretty soon they’ll realize you can do a lot more.
  • Act As If. Carry yourself as if you are in the position that you aspire to. I’m talking conduct here, people, NOT EGO. If you act as if you are at that next level, you’re likely to make positive impressions and be identified as someone who has the potential for that position of increased exposure or accountability. People will treat you differently when they see just how capable and what an important member of the team you are. Make them think, “I don’t know what we’d do without him | her.”
  • Dress for Success. Make Like You’ve Already Arrived by Dressing the Part. Top-notch leaders don’t just act that way. They LOOK like top-notch leaders. That said, you need to dress for success. Dress not for the position you necessarily have now, but for the position you aspire to. If your role only calls for business casual, press the envelope and be sharp in business attire (if the organizational culture allows). You’ll be amazed how differently you feel, and how differently others perceive and treat you, when you look sharp and professional.

 

These elements make the “whole package.” You’ll have the right attitude, carriage and look to go anywhere. If you transform a position you feel “too good for” into one that is a beneficial learning opportunity to get you just one step closer to your dream job, it can make all the difference in the world. It really is about mindset.

Now, work it and be the best (insert your current title here) possible while you can—because you won’t be in that role for long!

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