Calgary. For me, the west is magical and Alberta is my drug. When I first set my eyes on the snow-capped Rockies on a family vacation, I was enamoured. 5 years later, I would return for a summer to work north of Calgary and get to experience the pace of life and charm of Alberta living.
Everytime I return, a part of me longs to stay, feeling like I always belonged. Not just the mountains, but the rolling hills and coulies calm me.
The sense of opportunity also beckons as loud as ever to me, despite a slump in oil prices otherwise cooling the economy. Alberta, and Calgary, have also been a place of potential and promise in my life.
My first “real” summer job when I entered university was there. The Youth Ag Summit – the first global gathering of 4-H members and young people to talk about today’s challenges facing agriculture. An inspiring dinner with an incredible group of women sparked an idea which led to my current role at John Deere.
Then there is Advancing Women, the very conference which took me to Calgary earlier this month. My presentation topic? Creating opportunities.
When I speak to young people, I always encourage them to get involved and try new things. “Take advantage of opportunities” I can be heard saying to 4-H members and students alike. An open mind to new opportunities is equally important in our careers. As I reflect on the first 10 years of mine, it’s also clear we are responsible for creating opportunities for ourselves.
Every action and decision we make ultimately leads to the opportunities which come our way. How do you go about asking for opportunities though? In my career I believe 3 things have been critical to help me earn the right the ask:
- Strong work ethic
Strong work ethic
Working hard and proving yourself in your current role is the best way to position yourself for new opportunities. Although I joked about shining tractor tires, it was these tasks which seemed unimportant early in my career where I proved I was reliable. I took pride in making sure every job was well done. This ethic built credibility with my colleagues.
(Farm shows are a great training ground for young employees. Read about everything I learned while working farm shows.)
When I was a young 4-H member learning to show dairy calves, I remember my dad telling me that conformation is about the calf but showmanship is all about me. I realize now, what my dad was saying was not so different from the advice my manager would often offer, “focus on what you can control, manage what you can not.”
Being able to focus on what you control starts largely with the right attitude. You have to accept responsibility not just for your career, but ultimately your own happiness. This hasn’t always been easy for me, and like many women, I found low self-esteem was my major pitfall. Keeping a gratitude journal and positive self-talk are 2 exercises I use frequently to overcome negativity.
(I always suggest The Happiness Advantage for anyone wanting to learn more about the value and how to be happier. Here’s my review of the book).
Finally, there needs to be a “fit” if you are preparing to ask for an opportunity, whether it’s a new job or volunteering for a board. Look at fit from several angles – your personal values and strengths, organizational value and the management.
Personal values are something only you can assess, and you should understand this first. No matter what role you are in, if your values are at odds with the operating norms and culture of the organization, it’s very difficult to be truly happy. Remember, happiness leads to success (not the other way around).
From there, I was able to identify how I could use my strengths to help the organization better achieve its objectives. This is important because while it’s known people perform best when doing a job they’re good at, that benefit is often not enough to convince the business to make a change. You must clearly and strongly articulating what’s in it for the organization.
Finally, everything else can be aligned and your manager may not be open to change. Especially in agriculture, the status quo tends to be very comfortable, so be prepared for a little pushback. For me, I had to re-focus on how I could benefit the organization and I turned to my mentors to assist.
I feel blessed to work for and volunteer in organizations where my values are aligned and I’m able to explore my passions. I realize not everyone is so lucky, and if you’ve worked hard and focused on what you can control, but the fit isn’t there, it might be time to move on. Otherwise, be bold and start asking for opportunities!