How to Initiate Positive Change in Your Career and Workplace

Even when you work at a place you love—but especially when you don’t—there are opportunities to make positive changes in your own life and for your coworkers. Here are a few best practices to help you be happy and successful, recognize your unique strengths, combat imposter syndrome, and celebrate diversity on a daily basis.

Explore the science of happiness

Have you ever thought that if you made more money, or were more successful, you’d be happier? Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage, has spent his career focusing on the connection between happiness and success–a topic he first became interested in after attending Harvard Divinity School. While counseling students as an officer at Harvard, he found that no matter how happy students were for getting into an Ivy League school, two weeks later their thoughts weren’t focused on the privilege of being there. Instead, they were fixated on the competition and workload. Sound a bit like your own experience with that new job you took or that dream project you joined? 

Not all of us attended Ivy League schools, but the message is still the same: The sky’s the limit when it comes to success, but that success doesn’t directly correlate with happiness. In fact, as Achor reveals, happiness isn’t the result of being successful, but rather a prerequisite for it.

So how do you get happier? Focus on how you process the world. Add positive habits to your daily life, like keeping a gratitude journal or reaching out to people you’re grateful for. It could contribute to your overall happiness and, in turn, lead to a more successful life.

 

Happiness isn’t the result of being successful, but rather a prerequisite for it.

Be your own inspiration 

Valorie Kondos Field is a classically trained ballet dancer who served as a choreographer for the UCLA women’s gymnastics team. Because of the success she had in this position over seven years, she was promoted to head coach, despite having no prior gymnastics experience. 

Initially, Val wasn’t sure how to be a successful gymnastics coach, since her background was in dance. She looked to renowned coaches like Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski as examples of effective leadership. She attempted to emulate them closely but the team performed worse than in previous years. In fact, it placed last in the NCAA Championships. But failure led her to realize that there is more than one way to be successful. She asked herself, “Why be a second-rate Bobby Knight when I can be a first-rate Val?” Then she proceeded to build a team of coaches that had the strengths she didn’t possess. In doing so, she realized she could become a great coach and a great leader even if her background didn’t match the textbook example you’d expect to find for someone in her position. 

Val was able to rise from inexperienced newcomer to powerhouse coach while staying true to herself. What makes you unique? How can you harness your strengths to take you to your own next level?

Banish imposter syndrome

Have you ever been hired for or promoted to a position that made you wonder: “What were they thinking? I’m not cut out for this job!”? On paper, you fit the qualifications to a tee, but there was still a gut feeling of self-doubt that you couldn’t shake. This feeling has a name: imposter syndrome.

Most of us have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in our working lives. But have no fear, there are ways to overcome feeling like an imposter. 

Phil McKinney, former CTO of Hewlett-Packard, says to “share your secret.” Reach out to someone in your network that you trust and share why you think you’re an imposter. They may have had a similar experience and be able to offer creative solutions to problems you haven’t considered. 

Encouraging others can also be helpful. When you see someone whose skills you admire, acknowledge that person. It’s likely they’re also having those same feelings of self-doubt. These conversations allow us to empathize with one another and to hold each other accountable.

Also, realize that you’re experiencing this feeling because you’ve been given an opportunity. Someone has acknowledged that you deserve this promotion or special project. In anything you do, you either win or you learn (or, ideally, both!). If you make a mistake, learn from your tribulations so that when you’re presented with the same task in the future, you can do it even better. 

Finally, collect the good. Write down your accomplishments, big or small. And when you feel like an imposter, refer back to those accomplishments and realize how worthy you are of being put in your position.

Write down your accomplishments, big or small.

Embrace diversity daily

When thinking about how to celebrate and embrace diversity in the workplace, many companies go with a one-off approach—like a single Instagram post on a diversity-themed holiday or sponsoring an event like the Women’s March—without a previous connection to the issues or following up. Although these are great issues to support, identities shouldn’t just be celebrated at specific times. It’s important to focus on how to have an ongoing celebration of the diverse people who work in your organization. 

Kellie Wagner, founder and CEO of Collective—A DEI Lab, points out ways that integrating diversity daily can improve our entire ecosystem.

One of the most impactful things that can be done to highlight diversity is to have more inclusive meetings where everyone can voice their perspective. Though we love the initiative that an extrovert can bring to a group setting, there may be an introvert or remote employee who isn’t as outspoken. Make a point of asking for everyone’s opinions or thoughts in a meeting so every voice is heard. It could turn out to be a positive experience for the team and change how future meetings are run. 

Another way to weave diversity into everyday office life is to take a deeper look at the relationships you have with your colleagues. It’s natural to want to be around those who are similar to you, but what happens when this affinity for likeness affects your ability to be unbiased? When giving feedback, whether it be for a review or a project, if you allow your affinity to take the lead, you may find personal feelings hinder your ability to give impartial assessments—even if it’s unintentional. 

It’s important to recognize that these biases exist, and that they’re normal. Be intentional about finding ways to connect with others. Ask questions to find out the motivations, goals, and aspirations of those around you. When you take the time to find out more about them, you build deeper connections, which in turn leads to better communication, higher engagement, and a more inclusive environment.

How have you added positive habits in your daily life? Have you found ways to celebrate your team’s diversity that aren’t included here? We’d love to hear how you’re acting as an agent of change in your community or organization. Feel free to comment below. 

Integrating diversity daily can improve our entire ecosystem.
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