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How I (Almost) Lost my Career Momentum

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on June 15, 2014

It's the early 1990's and I'm 8 years into my career. I'm doing well. More than well. I'm on a hot streak. I went from outsider to insider and I did the equivalent of skipping a few grades in school.

But I'm concerned.

Given the speed of my career I'm worried that I might be perceived as a lightweight so I go to my mentor to discuss having the right skills.

I start with: "I'm thinking about slowing my career down so I don't get offered a promotion before I'm ready."

Before I had a chance to say anything else, my mentor interrupted me, "NEVER take yourself off track for a promotion. ALWAYS be in the position to turn down promotions. NEVER slow yourself down because you are afraid."

He nailed it : I was afraid to lean in.

Today when I think of how close I came to taking my career off track, I shake my head in dismay.

What's even more sobering is the number of times I probably slowed down my momentum without even knowing it. I can think of a dozen times where I hesitated to volunteer for something outside of my comfort zone.

I didn't understand career momentum. When I had it I didn't appreciate it, and when I was losing it, I didn't know that I was fighting it.

Overall my momentum carried me in the right direction, but it wasn't until recently I understood some of the dynamics and how to go with the flow.

Here's some ways to master your career momentum.

  1. Focus drives momentum. The clearer I was about my long term goals - personally and professionally - the better decisions I made. Advancement for the sake of advancement often fails in the long run because people operate with blinders on, foregoing better long term opportunities for short term gains.

  2. Move with your momentum. If you're building momentum, don't change just because something is dangled in front of you. I passed on an opportunity to work closely with my business unit's President in a Marketing role because I didn't have the skills. I had zero Marketing momentum. Instead I moved with my momentum and built a great relationship with my President by leading 2 breakthrough start ups. That led to positioning me for another promotion.

  3. Face your fears. Fear slows momentum. During my first 10 years my lack of self confidence drained my momentum. When I developed the confidence to lean in, I asked for tough challenges and my momentum increased.

  4. Comfort leads to coasting. I once was in a role for almost 5 years, but after 4, I was coasting comfortably. I was losing momentum until I transferred to a new role.

  5. Protect your momentum. More than once in my career I've been surprised by outside forces, and the ability to adapt comes from strong fundamentals and support. I leaned on great results, strong skills and an active network to navigate changes like unexpected transfers or business downsizing.

  6. Shift your momentum. There's nothing wrong with saying no or stepping away. When you lose your passion, or there's too much struggle, or you find passion else where, it's a sign you're losing momentum. It may be time to change direction and find momentum in a whole new area.

How's your career momentum these days? Are you leaning in or are you in over your head? Are you fighting to regain momentum or is it time to shift?

Momentum is movement - We're either gaining it or losing it. [tweet this] Master your momentum and see how much farther you'll get when you go with the flow.

Here's more insight on making the most of your momentum:

Check out The Career Toolbox for more practical tips and tools from top coachers.

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