You Are Your Team

Published: January 18, 2022

Whether it is the 19 year-olds I teach at Elmhurst University or the 40-somethings I coach through their career transitions, the trajectory of careers is driven by connections. You select an academic major when you are barely an adult. You accept a first job in your early 20’s with none of the maturity needed to know whether it fits your strengths, interests, values, and personality. Good luck with that. Let’s invite some teammates into the equation and convert chance into a strategy.

Between the launch point and the destination is a spaghetti bowl of experimentation and discovery. “Umm…let’s try this.” “Oops. Look what I found!” “Who would have guessed I’d end up here?!” “Ahhh…now I’ve got it!”

A foundation is established by proven methods:

  1. Assess your natural proclivities.
  2. Study academic and career options that are aligned with your discoveries.
  3. Connect with people who do this work.

If you do all three, work becomes play.

The secret sauce is the connections. In the “ready, aim, aim, aim, aim…” world, career exploration is risk-free as long as you stay in ‘research’ mode. Studying alternatives causes little anxiety, and probably reduces stress because thinking has far fewer commitments than doing. Insight is free. Action is costly.

Action is more than sprucing up your resume and tweaking your LinkedIn profile. Action is branching out to your network. Who do you know? Who do they know? The twists and turns that happen in your career trajectory are rarely guided by contemplation or passive exploration. The most important moments happen when someone you meet turns you on to someone they know (or even better, turns them on to you).

It’s all organic from that moment forward. A spark ignites a flame that fuels a fire. Your network has come alive on your behalf. Like most of us, you can define the most satisfying aspects of your professional path by the people who have stepped in and sponsored you. Your team is your path.  

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.