I’ve been obsessed with disruption and rule-breaking of late, which is strange coming from a lifelong rule-follower. I was raised to do everything by the book and taught to never question “the rules,” wherever I might encounter them. Rules are there for a reason.

One of my nicknames when I was little was “Cautious Cari” and that is how much of my formative years and early career progressed. And then life happened. I travelled the world and met people taking risks in business that I never knew were possible. What I found over time was that many of “the rules” in our professional lives—spoken and unspoken—are total rubbish.

In every culture around the world, the family, industry, and professional rules differ. And the degrees of what is expected in terms of a career trajectory varies widely, especially for women. For some reason, girls and women get a disproportionate dose of rule following 101. So much so that, by the time we are poised to jump into leadership roles, many of us miss or opt out of those opportunities because we’re so busy doing our jobs, doing what we’re told we should be doing, and taking on more and more responsibilities rather than pursuing what we’re meant to do.

“Many of us miss or opt out of opportunities because we’re so busy doing what we’re told we ‘should’ be doing, rather than pursuing what we’re meant to do.”

Cari E. Guittard, Professor of Women’s Leadership,Corporate Diplomacy, and International Negotiations

The 3 Rs: essential hacks every career rule-breaker knows

I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to learn from some of the best rule-breakers around the world. Many of them are entrepreneurs who created their own path and pioneered new ways of doing everything, breaking every “rule” along the way. What I admire about their careers is not where they have ended up, but the journeys they have taken and continue to chart moving forward. They have rewarding careers and fulfilling personal lives.

Here’s what I’ve learned, distilled down to my top three hacks. The 3 Rs, for not just breaking the rules but for building the career and the life you want: The Reason, Reframing, and Relationships.

1. The Reason: your foundation

Step one is taking the time to know what you want and what you value from work, your career, and your life. Be deliberate about this. Write it down and start from the end of your life and work backwards.

Then, write down what you are passionate about. For me, I initially had 7 areas—my passion buckets—that I dedicated to filling up with experience, new learnings, new connections, and growth every year. Later I realized that 7 wasn’t sustainable, so I narrowed it down to 5, and then finally my core 3 buckets.

It is amazing to me how many of my graduate students and peers in business never take the time to do these foundational steps. They just go from job to job, responsibility to responsibility, and then wonder why they hit mid-career and feel burned out, detached, and dissatisfied with their professional lives. So take the time to do this work. No cutting corners on this step.

2. Reframe: how do you define success?

Answer this question and write it down. You answer this question. Not your parents or grandparents, not your partner or dog-walker, best friend or therapist. You—and only you—define what success and leadership looks like. It isn’t defined by a position, title, salary, peer, family member, or organization.

When you do this mental reframing consistently, you free yourself up to pursue a path that is focused on your calling—what you are meant to do. I have always loved the definition of a calling as being “where one’s greatest passion intersects with the world’s greatest need.” For me, success has always been to leverage what I’m passionate about, work with great people, learn and be challenged in my work, and then make a difference in whatever small way I can. That for me is my definition of success.

“You—and only you—define what success and leadership looks like.”

Cari E. Guittard, Professor of Women’s Leadership,Corporate Diplomacy, and International Negotiations

3. Relationships & Social Capital: your network is your net worth

We rarely invest in our social capital strategically throughout our careers. And by “we” I am speaking to working women everywhere. We tend to compartmentalize our social, familial, and professional relationships, spending the least amount of time on the latter.

Listen, I hate networking. I’ve written posts on how I think traditional forms of networking is a waste of time and energy. You’d be better served spending your time and energy doing something you enjoy or learning something you are personally or professionally passionate about. That is where you are most likely to meet others who share your passion and with whom you can build a genuine, trusted relationship.

Your social capital—the number of diverse, trusted relationships you have—makes all the difference in your career and leadership journey. Invest the time every week, even if just half an hour, in building these relationships. It takes time. Build it slowly and be patient. The investment will be worth it in the long run.

Further inspiration: the rebel reading list

 

Disrupters: breaking career rulesDisrupters

If you want some further inspiration on the career rule-breaking front, you must read Patti Fletcher’s new book Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold.

It is such a quick read, jam-packed with personal stories of the rule-breakers in business that she profiled for her dissertation, as well as chock-full of practical insights and advice. This book is rare in the women’s leadership space, as it hits on many top-of-mind issues that all of us are actually dealing with. I appreciated so much of this book that I have added it to my required-reading list for the graduate elective I teach on Women’s Leadership & Gender Intelligence at Hult’s San Francisco Campus.

 

Breaking career rules: Charlotte Beers I'd Rather Be in ChargeI’d Rather Be in Charge

Another favorite book is by one of my former bosses and veteran glass-ceiling-smasher, the advertising legend Charlotte Beers. Reading I’d Rather Be in Charge is like sitting down with Beers for a series of intimate conversations.

Beers not only shares practical insights for one’s career, but also a ton of essential personal branding and influence strategies.

 

 

 

 

Breaking career rules: Goodnight stories for rebel girlsGood Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Along the rule-breaking rebel theme, I have to share one final resource. It’s the book I have been reading to my four-year-old daughter every night: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This is an incredible read, not just for my daughter to learn about all the different models of success out there, but also to see women of every age and ethnicity breaking the mold, being brave, and finding their own calling, whatever that might be.

I have since bought this as a gift for countless friends and their sons or daughters, because it is so powerful to be exposed to these real stories. These are the narratives and impressions that will—even if in some small way—shape how they view the potential of women and girls.

 

I can sum up my career rule-breaking journey with three words: The Un-Guided Missile. Years ago, one of my favorite bosses and mentors, a legend in global advertising, gave me this new nickname and I cherish it to this day. He explained that it meant, “You are going somewhere fast, not sure exactly how you will get there, but there is a method to your madness and YOU WILL GET THERE.” Exactly.

 

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