Take The Time To Get Clarity On Your Career

During Season 8 of The Power Of Owning Your Career podcast, Simone had the opportunity to speak with marketer, podcaster, brand strategist, speaker and entrepreneur, Stephen A. Hart. Stephen shared with Simone how he found clarity in his career direction and created his roadmap to reach his goals.

Their inspirational conversation offers wonderful tips and lessons to advance your career.


Simone: Welcome to this week's episode of The Power of owning your career podcast. Now, I don't want to let you know how giddy I am. But I am seriously giddy over today's guests. Because I'm a big fan of Stephen A. Hart. I've been following his work for quite some time. And he's the Trailblazer man. And here he is on the power of owning your career podcast. Welcome to the podcast. Stephen.


Stephen: Simone. I'm so happy to be here today. Thank you for having me.


Simone: Absolutely. I have been waiting to get all the gems from you on careers, because you are just blazing trails, not only on the podcast scene, but also in your nine to five or nine to five plus, I should say, getting multiple promotions along the way. And so would you say that you're in the driver's seat for your career?


Stephen: I am in the driver's seat for my career.


Simone: Awesome. How long have you been in the driver's seat?


Stephen: So I've been in my career going back 20 something years, but I've been in the driver's seat since 2016. So you know, I've worked in in the corporate world, doing a myriad of jobs over many years, probably over the first three or four years out of college, I had probably a dozen jobs, I kid you not. But that actually played out to my benefit. Because I had so much exposure to a wide range of of job duties and developed a myriad of skills early, I left corporate in 2005 to start my first business, eventually selling my stake in our business in 2011. Got back to corporate in 2012. I've been back in corporate for the last decade. But in 2016, I would see that's where I truly got in the driver's seat. It was the point where I began to seek clarity for my life and my career. And things evolve from there.


Simone: Wow. So what did you discover on that journey of clarity, Career Clarity? What did you discover about yourself?


Stephen: And that's the word, right? Clarity, clarity, I think so many of us lack an understanding of what it is that we want for our lives. And today, I have one of the many things I do, I have a personal branding course. And in the foundation elements of helping others to define their personal brand. I walk them through an exercise that helps them to identify their life's purpose. Right, and part of that is getting very clear on four things. The first thing is understanding the things that you truly love to do. The second thing is understanding where are those things that you're good at, that you're skilled at. Simone, I love to sing? But I'm not good at it.


Simone: I was about to ask you to sing.


Stephen: So, it's getting clear on those two things. The third thing is understanding what the world needs, what your world needs, what your tribe, your audience, or what your employer needs, right? And getting clear on what are those problems that you're really great at solving? And then the last thing is very important. What can we get paid for? Right, because a lot of times we get caught up in the things we love to do, the things that we're good at, and we're not getting paid for it. And so at the intersection of those four things, lives, your purpose. And it doesn't have to be just one thing. But you get clear on your life's meaning, you get clear on where you're able to impact others. And that exercise happened for me in 2016. The the catalyst for that, for me was my podcast when I launched trailblazers, but I sat through the exercise in 2016 and on June 26, of 2016. And worked through an exercise to get clear on not New Year's resolutions. This happened in the middle of the year, I started to work on, my B hacks - my big, hairy, audacious goals. And I developed what I call my 10 and 10. I started to think of, well, I'm approaching 45 next month, I started to think of well, where do I want to be in 30 years from now, when I'm home hopefully sitting on a beach chair, enjoying a red stripe, what did I want to look back on my life and be proud that I was able to accomplish. And I removed all the barriers, all obstacles that are in the present, are in the hereand now, I thought big, removing the limitations, thought of what were those big things that I would love my legacy to have said I was able to do these things. And from that reverse engineer to process from that start to say, well, if those are the big things, what would have to happen in the next 10 years for me to get close to that, that dream? And I started to list out those things. And when I was clear that, hey, this was my 10. Now I have a clear destination. And you know, a North Star, if you will. And, so I encourage those listening to get clear, get clear on those four things, I help you identify your purpose, and then get clear on what are your 10 and 10. What are those big goals that you are trying to push forward in your career, not for the employer, but your life, your career. Because my career, yes, while I serve the SANS Institute's in an amazing way, and I have such love for the work that I do as director of content for Sans, Sans also sees in me and appreciates my passion, my purpose, for lifting up the highlighting black voices, through my podcast. Nobody is more proud of the work I'm doing as a LinkedIn creator, right now, then many of my colleagues and so they see all of me, and the work that I do outside of SANS I'm able to bring into the organization. But see, that wouldn't have happened had I not been clear for Stephen, what those things are. When I got clear, then I was able to say, hey, you know what, I can now move forward in looking for the right opportunity, looking for the SANS Institute, right and saying, hey, you know, these are the things that I want to really do in my time on this earth, right, the seeds I want to plant, right and water, that will bless the generations that come behind me. So that's my formula.


Simone: Listen, I just felt like I was in church. Stephen is preaching up in here on the power of owning your career podcast. I love that. What came up for me is that you would have to be in the driver's seat to have that mindset to do that work, the due diligence to get clear so that when you have conversations, even in being strategic to find an employer that can appreciate the whole you what you're doing internally and externally has to be a strategic play. But you've got to do the work. And you've got to be clear. For me what came up was, I think I'm naming your episode, get clear in your career, because it just feels like really at the heart of what you're saying, if you get clear on your purpose. And these things that are important. I actually thought of Stephen Covey as well begin with the end in mind and then work your way back for, you know, the roadmap that you talked about? Is there anything that's missing from what you just shared? That's on your formula for owning your career?


Stephen: I think that's a great starting point. Beyond that, you have to get clear on who it is you're serving. You have to get clear on who it is you're trying to serve. But yeah, and you and I notice we're not serving everybody. And that a lot of people get tied up in understanding audiences being an entrepreneurial thing. No, you have to get clear on who it is you're trying to serve, even in the corporate world. So I touched on this just a second ago when I was leaving my prior employer. One of the things I was clear on was that I'm a podcaster and I'm a content creator. I'm a marketer by day, that's the title that I hold. And so I knew I was looking for an opportunity in marketing. What was my strength? What was I going to bring to the table? I was gonna bring somebody who has a ton of experience as a podcaster as a content creater as somebody who loves video. And in any corporation, there's a need for that skill. Now, I didn't do that for another company, I was doing that as a side hustle. But I knew that the right employer was going to see that and value that and encourage that. And it took me going through many interviews and conversations with recruiters and hiring managers who said, Hey, I really love you for this role. But could you take that podcast off your resume? And knowing who I am, Simone, and knowing exactly what I wanted for Stephen was able to say, "No, thank you." That stays, because wherever I land, they need to embrace that part of me. And that no is hard, right? Because I was passing up good money and good opportunity to say, No, I'll wait. I'll pass. I'm gonna wait for the right employer, the right audience, the right tribe, of people to see my value. And that takes, that takes some strength, if you don't have that clarity, right, if you're confused, you might just say, Yeah, sure. And you're moving on their timetable versus your own.


Simone: I call that not being in the driver's seat. So when you're not clear, and I know I speak from my experience in corporate America that I allowed people to tap me on the shoulder for roles because I was not clear on where I wanted to go, so their clarity became my clarity. And before you know it, when you do that you're down the road, and you're at a destination that you don't want to be at. So it's it's amazing that you're talking about the what I call the intrapreneur. Because I feel like you're an intrapreneur in organizations. Talk to us a little bit more about who you serve, when you're sitting inside the corporate walls, where it might be more difficult to get clear on who you serve. For me, it's clearer on the external, who I serve, I know. But for those that are listening and that are sitting in corporate America, how can they hone in on who they serve? And more importantly, Stephen, based on what you said, that packaging?


Stephen: Yeah, so great question. So I'm even thinking of right now, I shared it with you in our green room space before we started talking, but I've been lucky to have been promoted twice in the last eight months. And here's what happened, right? Coming into the organization I was clear on hey, I'm the content creator, I'm the podcast guy. I'm the video guy. And I came in as a marketing manager with that tilt, and they embraced it, SANS embraced it from when I walked in the door to people that hired me said, "Hey, don't ask for permission and go break stuff." And, I did that so well that at the beginning of last year, even before when COVID really started and got kind of midstream, we started to experience webcast fatigue, if you can think back to that time, but we're all stuck in webcasts every day, right, consuming all the information. And we saw that in our world. And I was able to pivot, I was able to say, hey, let's do away with the presentations. Let's have this real dialogue, because we became accustomed to having face time conversations over zoom, and said, what if we put away the slide decks and move to live stream where people could have real conversation with our course authors and instructors. And I moved us in that direction very quickly. It ramped up very quickly to podcasts. And in the middle of last year, I was on a train that even if I wanted to slow down, I couldn't. The things I was doing were moving us forward. And they said, "Hey, Stephen, we need you to focus on this all the time. Forget what you're doing, we'll figure out somebody else to do that work. We need you to take us forward." And I jumped in, I was able to write my own job description last summer and be promoted to being the Director of New Media. That was over our video over a podcast over our live streams. And I did that so well from August to December, that we onboarded a new CMO. She came on board and saw the work I was doing in such a short window, and as she was positioning for this reorg, she tapped me on my shoulder going into the Christmas holiday and said, "Hey, we need you to step out of the seat, you just jumped in. We need you to run all of content for the entire organization." And, so when you ask, Hey, who are you serving? ... I'm serving the SANS Institute, I'm serving the leaders who are trying to speak to the cybersecurity community and specifically, I'm now serving our CMO. And what does she need from me that I'm skilled at, but I love doing that the world needs that she's willing to pay me for? I'm clear on what I'm serving her. I know content, I know the problem, I know exactly how to solve for that problem. So on days, like today, I'm literally coming out of a meeting with the CEO of the company, and the execs, sharing with them, this is where we are, and this is where you guys want us to go. And this is how I will take us there, in terms of my share of of that pie, and we're an organization of 100 plus markets globally. But I have a unique set of skills that I'm able to bring to the table.


Simone: What's occurring to me, Stephen, is the time that you've invested in getting really clear is paying dividends for you. Because you're able to marry what the company needs are plus what you're able to serve up to serve them.


Stephen: It's a beautiful thing, Simone.


Simone: Yes, but now what I'm thinking about here is the external work of investment in yourself and your development, plus, in your passion, the investment in the podcast. So there are people who are suppressing their passions. But what we're saying here is embrace your passion, do the work, figure out your formula, and then serve it to who you're serving. I love that.


Stephen: And here's where we're coming full circle, to talk about the North Star Talks and about the 10 and 10. Simone knows this, but hey, listen, trailblazers.fm is my baby. Since February of 2016, we just celebrated our six year anniversary, as a podcast, I've had the blessing of interviewing now probably close to 300 really successful Black leaders and entrepreneurs, yourself included. And I have just been able to enjoy that process. But for 200 weeks, I did that every single Monday morning, I published an episode as an indie podcaster. But then my dad had a stroke in December of 2019, pre COVID. And I went through a period where I'd take the breaks, that was the life that slapped me upside the head and said, Hey, we need to actually pause right? And put the podcast aside for a bit because... mental health , because.. my family, because... COVID. And in the middle of 2020 in the chaos of all of this, I benched the podcast since January of 2020. And I got to the summer, and I just felt completely out of sync with all the things. And it was those 10 and 10. When I was on the coach, eating ice cream and binge watching Netflix, right, and in my sorrows, of just not knowing myself anymore. I was able to look at this 10 and 10 and saying is this still what I want? It was a Northstar. It was my why. Like it was clarity for me on saying, Hey, is this still what I really, really want to do, or do I want to shift? And I was like, Yes, still want to go ahead. And then my dad has another stroke in January of last year. And I'm like brah like I there's no way for me to move forward right now with the needs of the podcast plus my need as a caretaker, plus my full time job. So how do I still move forward in pushing forward with this vision? And at that point, we're talking about a journey, getting clear on a destination and working your way towards that destination. I realize a roadblock is like when you're turning on Google Maps and it says, "Hey, there's a detour ahead, there's an accident ahead", do you want to take this other roads? And my other road Simone was let me shift to live streams.


Simone: To LinkedIn.


Stephen: And I, in that moment, I'm sitting in this room, I'm talking to you, my dad has a stroke, he's on a bed 10 feet from me, where I'm sitting right now, cannot barely move. And 24 hour caretaker for my dad. And in the mornings at 8am. I turned my key lights on, the lights in this room are down. He's sleeping. And I'm starting to have conversations again, the thing that gives my heart joy. I didn't quit. But I learned to shift. I changed the map. Still the same destination, just a different route to get there. And we all need to have clarity in where we're trying to go. Because life is going to slap all of us upside to hit at some point, right? There's going to be an accident, there's going to be a detour that needs to happen. If you don't have that clarity, you turn around and drive back home. Or, like when the pandemic was happening, and I was tired of you know, I love my family. I'm proud to be Kristen's husband of almost 14 years and together we have two amazing crumb snatchers. But there's a time into pandemic where I would jump in my car and leave the whole of them here, right and go drive around town with nowhere to go, just so I can clear my head. How many of us have no clarity on where we're trying to go? And like me in the pandemic, jumping in your car every day, jumping into your life every day, driving around town, and coming right back to where you were. Because you don't have clarity on where you're trying to drive your life. So we have to get clear, or we're gonna find ourselves stuck. Five years, 10 years, 30 years out from now, instead of the beach chair. You're nowhere.


Simone: That's so powerful. And I really feel like there's a sermon going on here. I have to say I feel filled up. So thank you for that. I'm enjoying this interview. A thought that occurs to me, I know you talked about your brand course and your framework, are there other resources that you feel would be helpful to get to that clarity or to get driving in the right direction in your career?


Stephen: So there are a few things that I provide, one is my podcast. That's something that's ongoing. By way of the LinkedIn creator program, I've also put Trailblazers on steroids through what I'm now calling mission fuel.tv. And every weekday morning on LinkedIn, I've been going live, having these conversations, having other personalities that show up every weekday morning for 30 minutes. So those are two resources available, that don't cost you anything, and afford you the opportunity to hear from both myself as well as other amazing leaders, professionals, entrepreneurs, sharing their own wisdom. And then as you touched on, I have a personal branding course called Brand On Demand. So those are a couple of resources that I make available.


Simone: Wonderful. Thank you so much. And are there any final words that you want to wrap this interview up, it's been so powerful, short and sweet and powerful and impactful.


Stephen: I would encourage your community to definitely follow me and connect with me over on LinkedIn. That's where I am most active every single day at this point. And encourage everyone my action item is that you should be on LinkedIn. If you're not presently active on LinkedIn, you should absolutely be active on LinkedIn. Packaging up all the things we talked about today, that should showcase itself in your LinkedIn profile.


Simone: I was just about to add Stephen for some tips since you're in this LinkedIn creative program, but I know you have been dropping tips on LinkedIn, one of the things I love about you is your vulnerability because I remember reading - I get the trailblazers.FM email, and I also follow you on social media - and I remember reading about your decision about your dad. And so just feel like I've been taking the journey with you.


Stephen: Yeah. You know, that's something that we do quite frequently especially on our Wednesday broadcasts that Shawn does. We get really vulnerable on LinkedIn, of all places, there been Wednesday mornings, where I'm crying on a live stream, and becoming very open to sharing what I'm working through. And there are days where I don't feel like showing up. We're into week nine right now. I've put up almost 45 live streams in the last less than 60 days. That's a lot of content. And not just at any point in the day, I'm live at 8:30 in the morning, right after my kids are at school, I'm jumping on a live stream. That means that there are many days where my brain is fuzzy. In the morning, you don't always wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed. But I have gotten into it where I've said, You know what, let's see what happens. Let's see what happens. And so, I'm gonna encourage you when you're stepping into your days, whatever you commit to decide to show up, decide to see what happens. Take the first step.


Simone: Love that you have given us permission to show up more vulnerably I mean, you just told me you were crying on live. Okay. All right. I'm gonna listen to this episode. Again. So many valuable nuggets here. Stephen, please tell our listeners how to stay connected with you.


Stephen: It's best for you to go to StephenAHart.com. And you can route to all the things, depending on where you want to connect with me and continue the conversation. You can can learn all the things there. So StephenAHart.com.


Simone: Wonderful. Thank you so much for being a guest on the power of owning your career podcast.


Stephen: Thank you Simone.

To listen to this conversation and all of the other wonderful guest interviews that Simone has had on her podcast, tune into The Power of Owning Your Career.

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