Many people learn how to ride bicycles as children, practicing in safe locations such as an empty street or parking lot. As their balance grows, so does their confidence, making it easier to pedal farther, ride for longer, and confidently take on busier streets and more dangerous locales. As you look for ways to create the career you want, you can emulate this same process by finding low-risk venues to learn and practice important new skills. Learning is easiest when you’re willing to try new things, to be awkward, to fail, and to practice until you get it right. As you’re managing your reputation and building your desired personal brand, consider practicing these skills outside of the critical work arena and bringing them back into the workplace once you have gained a sufficient level of mastery. This may not always be possible – to mix metaphors, sometimes you have to just dive into the deep end of the pool – but when you can anticipate the need for a new career skill, you can plan ahead and act proactively. Hone your skills by actively seeking out opportunities to practice in low-risk settings.
If you’re not sure where to start, spend some time thinking about your current skill set. Set aside those areas where you shine and consider the areas where you would like to do better. If you aren’t sure what skill you should add next, seek advice and feedback. Look at your goals and consider where you want to be in five years and what skills you’ll need to acquire in order to get there. If you want to improve your networking skills, start by striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the train or on a flight. Practice building rapport, listening, asking questions, and sharing your story. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, join Toastmasters or take an improvisation class. If you want to practice leading a team, volunteer to run an event for a school or community group, organize a neighborhood gathering, or take a leadership role in an employee resource group. Anticipate the critical career skills you will need and look for opportunities to practice these skills as you create the career you want.
More information on this tip, and others, can be found in Lead Your Way: Practical Coaching Advice for Creating the Career You Want