Want to Build a Great Career? Start with Your Community.


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If you were to search the Internet for advice on how to build a successful career, you’d find all kinds of different tips. Some would focus on the importance of personal branding, others about how to network, still others would talk about how to navigate a corporate organization.

All of these are valid career strategies, but they all lack an important element. They all take a “me-first” approach to career building. It’s often subtle, but the traditional career advice (whether it’s about personal branding, networking, etc) starts and ends with “ME”. How can I use personal branding, networking or some other tactic to help ME.

I think we can do better than the “me-first” mindset.

When I look around at the people whose careers I respect the most, the people who I love working with, I see that they take the opposite of the “me-first” approach. They have a “give-first” approach to their careers. Specifically, each one of them is heavily involved with a community (or communities) and contribute to it relentlessly.

What Do I Mean by Community?

Communities can be hard to define. There’s usually not a definition of who’s in the community and who’s not. Most communities don’t have a list of dues paying members. They’re fluid, unofficial and constantly evolving. Pamela Slim, career expert and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation and Body of Work, refers to communities as “ecosystems”. I think that’s a perfect term for them. Communities are messy, organic, based on perception and trust. People come and go. But they’re tied together by shared interest and shared values.

While it’s hard to have a precise definition of what a community is. It’s pretty easy to tell when you’ve come across a good one. A few examples:

  • The WordPress community: WordPress is an open source software platform used for building websites. The WordPress community includes marketers, business people and web developers who are interested in improving the WordPress platform and in open source, the web, and small business.
  • At The Helm: Women in Biz: At The Helm is an LA-based community of women professionals that sponsors meetups, conferences and a podcast. Alaia Williams started the community because she was tired of attending business events where everyone was just trying to sell to each other. Alaia and the other ATH members created a business group where people truly helped each other with their careers and businesses.
  • World Domination Summit: The World Domination Summit is a community of people who have rejected traditional corporate careers. They value independence, unconventional living, solopreneurship and service. Every year in July they gather in Portland Oregon for a fantastic two day conference.
  • Women’s Innovation Lab: If you’re reading this, you already know about this community and the awesome work its doing!

The core members of these communities are dedicated people who love the work that they do. They care about the missions of their communities and about the people in them.

Here’s Why You Should Focus on Community

As you contribute to your community, you’ll find that over time it will become a wonderful source of support and opportunity for you. Here’s how it works:

  1. People want to work with people that they trust. That’s the way it’s always been, and always will be.
  2. The only way to build trust with people is to be genuine and generous. In short, the only way to build trust is to be trustworthy.
  3. Building trust takes time. Time as measured in years, not months.
  4. The genuine part is important. It’s hard to be engaged and generous over a meaningful period of time if you don’t genuinely care about the people and work that you’re involved with. And that leads to the kicker…
  5. When you find a community that you love, it’s a beautiful thing. You contribute to the community because you care about the members and you believe in its mission. And in turn, you build a network of trusted colleagues believe in you and your work. And in time, this is where your jobs, projects and opportunities come from.

There are lots of ways to build your career. It’s possible to build a career without connecting deeply with the people you work with. Lots of people who have seemingly successful careers do that every day.

But the question is: if you can build a career by connecting deeply with a community you love, why would you want to do it any other way?


Brian Shea

I am the founder of Shea Consulting, LLC, a Boston-based consultancy that develops systems to help businesses save time and grow. I am also the host of The Indie Consultants Podcast, a show about building a consulting practice for the long haul.

Read more about and from Brian: Brian’s WiLab Profile


Originally posted 2014-12-04 14:00:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter