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A July 4th Reflection on Professional Independence

By Jacquelyn Adams

As fireworks light up the sky this July 4th, Americans will gather to celebrate Independence Day, commemorating the nation’s historical quest for freedom and self-governance. And here at Lessons on Leadership, we love taking advantage of these external occasions, whether it’s May the 4th or just a shift in the seasons, as a springboard to consider aspects of our current job, along with our career’s trajectory. So let’s channel some of this holiday’s excitement into igniting our independence in our career, and working towards a brighter future.

Embracing Independence in Your Career

Independence in the workplace means taking initiative and having the confidence to handle projects and make decisions without needing constant oversight. It’s about trusting your instincts and having the courage to present new ideas or solutions. However, embracing independence doesn’t mean going it alone. If George Washington had tried to fight the British as an army of one, we would not be celebrating July 4th. So just like the battle field, it’s about finding the right balance between leading and collaborating.

To cultivate independence, start by identifying opportunities where you can take the lead. Propose a project related to your interests or expertise, or suggest improvements to existing processes (as long as we can do so with emotional intelligence, so we aren’t accused of insubordination or mutiny). Such initiatives not only display your capability to work autonomously, but also demonstrate your commitment to the organization’s goals. As Steve Jobs famously said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Freedom to Innovate and Experiment

Innovation is a fundamental driver of career growth and success, often stemming from the freedom to experiment and take calculated risks. “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible,” noted science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Encouraging a culture where new ideas are welcomed and tested can lead to significant breakthroughs, both for individuals and organizations.

Consider the story of Lyndon Rive, a tech entrepreneur who pivoted his career from a stable IT job to launching SolarCity, a start-up focused on renewable energy solutions. His success was not just in his technical expertise, honed as the CEO of Everdream, but in his willingness to address unmet needs with creative solutions. This journey was sparked by a conversation with his cousin, Elon Musk, and a shared desire for professional freedom. By making solar energy more accessible and affordable, Rive transformed the renewable energy landscape and achieved remarkable success.

If we don’t stop and give ourselves time to dream and consider problems from new angles, then we miss opportunities of innovation and experimentation. We miss out on being groundbreakers and world shapers. So let’s stop today and list the problems in our path. Take five minutes and be thorough. Now let your brain wander, as you think about solving these problems. When it comes to brainstorming, nothing it too big, small or crazy. Maybe we will realize we would be served best by changing fields. Maybe we really want that promotion, so we will start scheduling regular check-ins with our superiors and taking on extra work. We have the freedom to dream, and then do.

Independence is not Isolation

Networking plays a crucial role as we strive to build a brighter future for our career. Connecting with others in your field, along with complimentary fields, can open up new paths and perspectives, which is essential for independent career growth. Additionally, consider seeking out a mentor who can provide guidance and support as you navigate your professional landscape. As Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, advises, “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” Guidance from a mentor can provide an outside perspective as you conduct a personal career audit. They can act as a sounding board or contribute additional questions as you evaluate your current job satisfaction, career goals and the steps needed to realize those aspirations. Are you where you want to be? What skills do you need to develop? How can you make your work more fulfilling? Setting aside time for this reflection can lead to a clearer vision and renewed motivation, and again, consider asking someone else to support you in this conversation. Having another person there can really increase the focus and productivity.

Today is an opportunity to make a declaration to our commitment to personal and professional growth. Set specific, measurable goals for the next year, and identify the steps you’ll take to achieve them. Remember, freedom comes with responsibility — the responsibility to constantly evolve, innovate and strive towards excellence. As we anxiously wait for those gorgeous firework displays, let’s also consider our potential to reshape our professional lives. This Independence Day is a chance to drive our career forward, making strategic choices that reflect our personal and professional values.

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Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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