Finding Career Success

By Lisa Witte

Former Secretary of State and Retired Four-Star General Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”  

Throughout my career, I have found these three things to be foundational as I have sought to embrace new opportunities and challenges. I am always growing and evolving professionally and personally. This approach has led me to positions that I didn’t anticipate or wouldn’t naturally have pursued, and each experience gave me the confidence to take the next step.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

Be Prepared

Always have a plan, but remain open and flexible. When I started thinking about careers, being a business leader would never have crossed my mind. I went to school for pre-med and majored in biology. It turns out, I loved the science but I didn’t love being the scientist. Instead I moved into technical sales so I could apply what I learned in school and continue on a career path that was and continues to be interesting, rewarding, and fulfilling.

Sometimes we envision a path that includes progressive promotions, but a lateral move may be more strategic because it allows you to broaden experience, deepen your knowledge, and continue to expand your network. And by embracing life-long learning, you can give new knowledge time to grow into understanding.

Work Hard

When I think of hard work, I think of taking initiative, perseverance, motivation, and teamwork. If you see something that needs to be done, do it. If you aren’t sure how to do it, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether you look for a mentor, sponsor, or advocate, you should find people with whom you can talk freely and who can offer insight and advice when you need it. It’s about making connections and building relationships.

I also think it’s important to pay it forward and serve as a trusted ear for others. I have mentored many colleagues throughout the years and have found I have grown through these experiences as much as the individuals who have sought my guidance.

Most of all, persevere. Don’t give up on tasks that you find to be demanding or outside your comfort zone. Stick with it until it’s done to the best of your ability.

Take the Risk

At one point, I aspired to manage a business. I had been successful in a variety of sales and sales leadership roles, but wanted a new challenge. Did I have the right skill set? I thought I did, but I quickly discovered I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

When I eventually became the general manager for one of Thermo Fisher Scientific’s business units, it was like starting all over. The familiar sales terms and concepts were almost peripheral to product development and manufacturing. I worked with technical product experts, engineers, and manufacturing professionals daily, which was very different from how I was used to spending my time. But instead of giving up, I surrounded myself with a very talented, diverse group of colleagues who taught me so much. And together, we took that business to the next level. A very rewarding time in my career.

If you always play it safe and don’t open yourself up for failure with stretch projects or positions, you won’t continue to develop new skills. I have learned so much from things that haven’t gone as well as I would have liked, which gave me new perspective and made me better prepared for the future.

Embrace the Journey

The vision you have for your career in your early 20s often looks very different as you enter each successive decade. Relationships, family, moves to new locations, for example, impact the decisions we make and the paths we follow — so “what works today, may not work tomorrow.” Ultimately, success is how you define it. A career path doesn’t need to be, and often won’t be, a straight line. Life happens. There are twists and turns. But if you are true to yourself, you will find a meaningful, successful career.

I leave you with these wise words from Buddha: “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”

Finding Career Success