The 4 stages of creating a breakthrough in your career

When I talk to R&D, Innovation and Product Development executives after they've nailed a product launch, their enthusiasm and energy is overwhelming, raw and infectious.

The numbers are in, they’re receiving accolades, consumer sentiment and market share are indexing their way and they're riding a wave of optimism that's heady and contagious.

But here's the thing.....they tell me it wasn't always like this.  They track back to early in the process when the executive team, shareholders and the rest of the organization were on their backs and you can see the pain and friction they endured - now, on the other side of the skirmishes and grind, they're ecstatic.

The same thing happens when you’re looking to take the next step in your career.

In order to have a major breakthrough and an ever growing challenge(every high-caliber talent says they want a new challenge), you have to go through 4 stages.

The four stages aren't necessarily a surprise, but the order in which they appear does surprise most people.

The first step is Commitment & Conviction - taking on a "burn the boats" mentality, a "whether I stay here or not, I'm striking now and telling those around me something has to change.”

It comes before you know what another employer will offer you as a salary.

It comes before you fully understand what the role is.

It comes before you know whether or not you'll be successful.

It comes without a safety net - there is no going back once you’ve committed.

You may have a picture in your mind what the future entails, but it’s still a guess.  Regardless, your next actions are all in pursuit of that vision, of something DIFFERENT and BETTER than what you have now.

Once you've made the commitment to change the trajectory of your career, you've lost certainty of what happens next.

The possibility of your age, gender, skill set, personality and past being rejected all come into play.

Leaving your comfort zone of peers, friends and work environment is now a reality - what replaces that is now unknown.

People around you question your motives, your sanity - cynics crawl out of the woodwork.

That takes a TON of COURAGE - this stage could last a week, it could last a year, but regardless, the actions you're taking towards that next step in your career require BRAVERY - an ability to keep moving in spite of the fear you're feeling and the unknown in front of you.

Once you've COMMITTED to move forward in spite of your fear, new resources and additional clarity will present themselves.  Sometimes you have to reach for them - this is where a Recruiter or an internal Champion comes into play. The RESOURCES you need for your breakthrough come to the surface.

The optimal relationship with a Recruiter or Internal Champion is one where your COMMITMENT TO CHANGE and your COURAGE to do what's necessary is already present.  No one else can make that appear - you have to summon it.  A recruiter or external circumstance or a significant other may influence you, but in the end, you have to own the conviction and drive the process.

The last step in a breakthrough is the reward, the fun part - it's the aura that's present in the R&D leader I described above.  It's CONFIDENCE - a lot of people wait for confidence to appear before embarking on a job search. Unfortunately, that's why many people get stuck where they're at - they wait for the confidence to appear and the stars to align before taking the first step.  It never comes.

This applies to you whether you're fresh in the business or well into your career - if you truly crave a breakthrough and a new challenge, fear, uncertainty, possible rejection, significant soul searching, and additional stressors to your life are all part of the formula.  

Jerry Seinfeld, AFTER amassing hundreds of millions of dollars in career earnings and worldwide acclaim, went back to small comedy houses and performed in front of small crowds - all new material, all by himself, back to his roots.

What to do

To help you over the hump, think about other times in your life where you've acted in spite of knowing the outcome.  You came out on other side accomplishing something you didn't know possible. You've probably done it multiple times in your life - keep seeking out examples. This isn’t your first rodeo nor the first time you’ve been COURAGEOUS.

True innovators, ground-breaking pioneers and successful R&D executives have all mastered these 4 stages.  

They've accepted the order in which break through innovation and career acceleration occur, and they accept the friction that occurs at each stage - what they never lose sight of is the exhilaration in the last stage of the process.

Bob Pudlock

Be Iconic®

Bob Pudlock is the President of Gulf Stream Search, an executive search firm that specializes in the placement of top talent in the food, beverage, ingredient and flavor industries in the US.