You need one of these 3 things to maximize your carreer.

I have thought a lot about my professional career lately. Writing a book about the most important lessons you’ve learned in life will do that to you. And it’s far more enjoyable to reflect on your career because you are writing a book than because you are on your death bed, thinking about what you would have done differently. Although the death bed reflection involves far less proofreading.

Career Path

While writing, What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say, I have examined my career path and the forces that have influenced it. The short story is that I started my career at the bottom of the advertising ladder, as a junior copywriter. (Although truth be told, I have never actually seen the professional ladder. Or the Emporer’s new clothes. Or a snipe.)

My professional titles progressed as follows:

  • Junior Copywriter
  • Copywriter/Producer
  • Senior Copywriter
  • Associate Creative Director
  • Creative Director
  • Executive Creative Director
  • Chief Creative Officer

Entrepreneurship

After I became a Chief Creative Officer I decided it was time to start my own advertising and ideas agency called The Weaponry. That was 5 years ago. Today, my title is Founder and CEO. Which is a lesson in itself. Because if you have the fortitude to start your own business you can give yourself any title you want. I just thought that Galactic Czar was a little too much.

But Wait. There’s More.

I have made the full professional progression from entry-level to C-suite to entrepreneur. But I’m not done yet. I am just days away from publishing my first book with independent publisher Ripples Media. And I have several other exciting and challenging chapters of my professional career ahead of me. Some of these chapters are already planned. And I am sure there are some surprises in store. There always are.

Your Career Guide

To make the type of forward progress I have made you need at least one of the following people in your life:

  • A Mentor
  • A Career Coach
  • A Spouse or Life Partner

These 3 roles all have the ability or responsibility to look after you throughout your career. They can all help you map out your entire journey, and offer feedback, guidance, encouragement, and direction based on your goals. But only the third one should ever see you naked.

The important commonality is that mentors, career coaches, and spouses are not concerned about your current employer’s needs. They are not trying to keep you happy today. They are focused on the big picture, which might not include your current employer.

Mentor

I have never had a real long-term mentor. I have had mentor-ish people help me at various times, with specific roles or challenges. But not someone with whom I had an official ongoing mentor-mentee relationship. I would be happy to have one. I simply haven’t. Maybe it’s not ment to be.

Career Coach

I have never worked with a professional career coach either. Again, I see great value in this role, and would certainly be open to adding a coach to my weaponry. Because I am smart enough to know that I still have a lot to learn and that I could use all the help I can get.

Spouse

My wife Dawn has been the primary career minder for me. She knows what my goals are and she knows the timeline I have set for myself. For over 20 years she has regularly helped me evaluate my professional development and career progress with 2 simple questions:

  1. Are you where you want to be?
  2. Where are you going next?

The answers to these 2 questions provide the regular reality check I need to make sure I arrive at each of my preset checkpoints, but that I don’t stay there too long if I want to complete the race I am in.

Key Takeaway

Find someone to help you map out, navigate, and complete your career journey. Someone who can be there for the entire journey. Who is unbiased towards any particular role or employer, but simply wants you to accomplish all that you set out for yourself. Don’t be afraid to request a mentor relationship. Don’t underestimate the value of a professional coach. And if you have a spouse or life partner that’s in it for the long run, let them help ensure you reach the finish line together.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

How your spouse can be your greatest career coach.

There are many amazing people who have had a significant impact on my career. There have been CEOs I admire. Entrepreneurs that inspired me. Creative Directors who have guided me. And successful marketers of all sorts that have provided me with important lessons and insights.

My Wife

But there is one person who has had the greatest positive influence on my career, by far. My wife, Dawn Albrecht. Dawn and I have a special relationship. I fell in love with her at first sight. Then, just seconds later I realized that she was actually my new coworker. It was a little like the moment Kelly McGillis walked into Tom Cruise’s classroom in Top Gun. #SoYoureTheOne

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My wife Dawn serves up career magic.

The Downside

Initially the fact that we worked together was a negative. It made it awfully hard to ask her out. Because a failed office romance provides a constant reminder of your failed office romance until one of you quits or gets fired.

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The last picture of us before we became BF &GF.

The Upside

But once we became an actual couple, not just a couple in my imagination system, the fact that we worked together became a major advantage. Dawn fully understood my job, my industry and my career path. She understood the workplace dynamics I faced. She saw my untapped potential. And she knew just how to push me forward.

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Dawn always coordinates her shirt with seasonal gourds. #nextlevel

You know I thought I had it so good.

When we first met I was just 4 years into my career. I thought I had a great title. And I was very proud of my salary. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Dawn, on the other hand, had spent 7 years working for great companies in New York City and Chicago, including the Lifetime Channel (television for women), Times Mirror Publications, Discovery Networks and Cars.com.

Simply put, Dawn knew more than me. She recognized my growth potential and she pushed me to realize it.

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Our wedding day. (You knew it was either that or Halloween, right?)

Here We Go

Over the course of the next 10 years Dawn went from my coworker, to my wife and best friend, to the mother of my 3 children. But she also became my career coach. And my personal motivator. She made me think about whether I was stretching and growing. She made me think about my professional skills and abilities. She taught me about the true value I brought to my clients and employers. And she called me out when she thought I had grown too comfortable. And she was always right.

An Endorsement For Coaching

Dawn taught me the value of having a strong career coach. And over the first 10 years of our relationship my title grew from Senior Writer at Cramer Krasselt to Chief Creative Officer at Engauge, an agency with 4 office locations and 275 people in Atlanta, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Orlando.

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The Agency Takes Off

13 years after Dawn and I met, Halyard Capital, the private investment firm that owned Engauge, decided the agency was on the right trajectory to sell. I was part of the 4-person leadership team that represented Engauge as we met with 15 potential buyers. In August of 2013 the agency was bought by Publicis, the world renowned ad agency holding company in Paris. And I was ready for my next chapter.

Entrepreneurship

I always wanted to start my own business. And just 2 years later I began plans to launch my own advertising agency. Despite the fact that I would be trading in a nice salary, and comfortable benefits, Dawn was 100% behind the plan. She never questioned or doubted that an agency I created would be successful. Her total confidence in me added to my healthy confidence in myself.

The Weaponry

I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, when I was 42 years old. Today, I am frequently asked what the scariest moment of my entrepreneurial experience has been. But I really haven’t been scared at all. I credit much of that to Dawn. Because she has had full confidence that this would work out exactly as planned. And if Mama’s not worried, nobody’s worried.

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Our tribe at The Weaponry.

Birthday Girl!

Today is Dawn’s birthday (at least it is if you are reading this on October 29th). I will take the day off, just like I do every year. We will spend the day together. And I’ll reflect on how I wouldn’t have made it this far down my path this fast if it wasn’t for her. She has encouraged me, inspired me and challenged me. She has put her complete faith in me (and maybe my life insurance policy).

She has fully supported the decision to walk away from a comfortable life in search of an adventurous and even more rewarding experience. Dawn is like the Jelly of The Month Club. Because she’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year. In friendship. In family. And yes, even in business.

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Key Takeaway

If you want to be do great things, find someone great to go with you. Someone who believes in you. Someone fun and funny. Someone who won’t let you get comfortable. Someone who challenges you to grow and become all that you were supposed to be. If you find someone like that never let them go. Never take them for granted. And if you can take their birthday off every year and spend it with them, do it. You’ll never regret it.

If you liked this I also¬†wrote about the first time ever I saw Dawn’s face in the post It was an ordinary day until I got on that elevator.