There is tons of advice on the internet about all the things that you can do right in your career. Still, don’t you find that real life often delivers the best aha moments?

I recently had a meeting with my manager and one of our organization’s clients. Not having spoken to this person before, our conversation naturally began with some quick intros. I said one sentence quickly describing my role and proceeded without another thought.

Later on, my manager and I did a recap of the conversation. I already knew what our major takeaways would be, but I didn’t expect her to bring up that one sentence. “Your intro. I wanted to ask you about it. You weren’t wrong, but is that how you see your role?”

Had you been there, you would’ve heard me say something like “I support [manager’s name-here] by answering questions and reaching out to our community of organizations.”

Let me first quickly say that I’ve had a weird string of luck when it comes to great managers. The way I just described my job is true and I have no problem framing it that way. So when I expressed confusion at her question, she kindly explained that she hoped I didn’t feel constrained in my duties – because I do much more than simply supporting her.

I don’t typically dive into my work accomplishments when I meet someone new (if that wasn’t already evident by my intro), but it’s true that I have taken on more responsibility than was in my initial job description. In addition to supporting our external outreach, I’ve done research for major organizational projects and have taken a lead in our data and documentation efforts. My role has evolved from what we both expected since the first time I sat in that interview room.

I don’t forget that. In my head, I often celebrate it.

If you’re serious about your career, then you too have probably spent hours reading all the advice out there on how to be successful in it. I know that your elevator pitch is important. I’ve read the research on women being too apologetic in the workplace (both sides of this actually) and about the female tendency to use upspeak. I also recognize that being young in the workplace is just hard, particularly for understanding how to project power and influence. All of this is the reason why I try to be deliberate in how I speak and act when I’m at work.

That one sentence wasn’t wrong. Still, the way I presented myself at that meeting didn’t do my career path justice. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have realized it if someone else hadn’t pointed it out.

When we think about the things people do to sabotage their careers, the faux pas that come to mind are glaringly obvious: coming into work late, being on your phone throughout the day, dressing inappropriately, not taking ownership over your work. In my mind, those things have clear fixes. It’s the smaller, more implicit missteps that need our attention. Even something as small as the way we introduce ourselves should be intentional in advocating for our careers.

Following that revelation, my manager and I moved on to discuss my future and the vision she sees for me at our organization. I’m grateful to have that reminder of what it is I should be working towards. Going forward, that’s the frame of mind I plan to take when telling people who I am and what I do.

Have you ever had a career aha moment at work? Who helped you see the light and how did it affect you going forward?

How I Underestimated Myself with Just One Sentence
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