Picking the moments that define your career

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An aeroplane pilot once described what being a pilot is like. He explained it as ‘hours of boredom and moments of panic’. On might argue that forging a successful career in the business world requires hours of mundane work combined with moments of brilliance. In the game of football, a great striker doesn’t pull off brilliant moments throughout the entire game. He typically works hard, makes a lot of runs, often goes unnoticed. But when it matters, he’s usually able to take his chance and score. For 89 minutes his work goes largely unnoticed, but for one minute he makes himself the hero. Your career in the workplace is much like this, in that you’ve got to know the right moments to strike, but know that you cannot do this if you don’t put the quiet, unnoticed hours in.

And no, this doesn’t mean slacking off 80% of the time when the boss isn’t looking. As you progress in your chosen field or role, you’ll encounter moments where you need to be great. There are long periods when you merely need to be competent, but there are some moments where you need to rise to the occasion. In some roles these moments may have several months or more separating them, while in other roles they may occur every week.

So what are these moments and how do you know when they are happening? Well, typically they are moments when you get a chance to present or report back on something in front of your superiors, or perhaps carry out a task or project where you will be evaluated. In short, these moments are platforms for you to impress. Let’s say you’re a Marketing Assistant and your manager asks you for a short presentation on market trends in your industry. This is once such moment. You need to put your heart and soul and best thinking into this in order to make it as good as possible, and do every time moments like this arise.

Being memorable when it matters is one of the most important things that will set you apart from colleagues and put you in line for growth in your company. Remember, employees who hide or go unnoticed also usually go unpromoted.

However, while pilots can transition into autopilot, you can’t. Remember that most little things you do well won’t necessarily gain you praise. But most little things you do badly will most likely gain you criticism, albeit sometimes silent criticism. Do everything in a manner that you’d be happy to explain or put your name alongside, even if nobody is watching and never sees it. You control how well you do certain tasks. Steve Jobs articulated this particularly well: “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back.”

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