Life is challenging and ever-changing. It’s like the music on your playlist. No song plays forever unless you keep it on repeat. The music changes, and so do the tempo and beat.
In your career, you will face new challenges regularly. Some will help you develop and rise to higher levels. Others may detract your confidence and leave you feeling stuck. If you remain prepared and stay ready, you can successfully demonstrate agility and navigate tempo changes and different beats as they arise. You won’t be caught off guard nor forced to alter who you are to remain relevant in the workplace. Staying prepared will allow you to adapt and adjust quickly. The phrase “stay ready vs. get ready” means you must be indispensable in the workplace.
What does being indispensable mean? Two words: absolutely necessary. You must be absolutely necessary for your job, work environment, entrepreneurial efforts, with your peers, leader, and team, or wherever you seek fulfillment. I want you to be indispensable in every aspect of your career or life that matters to you.
Here are four key principles of what being indispensable means.
- You are counted on for greatness.
- You have a recipe for success that cannot be duplicated.
- You have an asymptote mindset.
- You exude confidence in asserting your voice.
Number one, being indispensable means being counted on for greatness. It means that you consistently deliver in everything you do. Think about your team. Who are the go-to people that pull the weight, not only for themselves but they pull the weight for the entire team? When you are indispensable in business, you are a go-to person. You are a name and an individual that is top of mind for people around you.
I remember when my daughter was in competitive dance. When she first started, she wanted to be in the front row. The person on the front row carries the team when you’re competing. She often asked, “What can I do to be on the front row?” I would respond, “To be on the front row, you’re the individual who practices relentlessly when new skills are taught. You raise your hand to try new things and volunteer. You’re willing to put in the extra work and effort to help your team achieve at a greater level. You help others become better, and you listen to coaching and feedback. And when you hit the stage, leave it all on the floor and have fun.”
Zoe Abbott Proves Women Can Do it All(Opens in a new browser tab)
Think about your current role. Are you the one that’s raising your hand to take on the assignments no one else wants? Are you putting in the extra effort? Do you exude a level of discipline? Do you pull the weight, not just for yourself, but for others as well? To be indispensable, you need to be counted on for greatness for yourself and others.
Number two, you need a recipe that cannot be duplicated. One of my favorite desserts is a red velvet cake. I once had someone on my team that made the best red velvet cake I had ever tasted. One day, I decided to replicate his recipe and make it for my family. I got the recipe’s specifics and bought all the items I naively thought were needed for success. I was elated and ready to wow my family with my version of this amazing cake.
Unfortunately, I made the cake three times, and it was horrible. My attempt at replicating this recipe was an epic failure. Finally, I relented on the task at hand and gave up. It’s okay to know what’s your thing and what is not your thing. I pondered over and over why I couldn’t get the outcomes I desired in making the cake. I realized that who makes the cake is an essential factor. They had specific tools and techniques I did not have. I had the recipe. I followed the directions as I interpreted them, but there was a unique value proposition I didn’t have. I could not replicate or duplicate the owner’s recipe.
There was something special about their insight, judgment, and how they operated in making the cake at the moment that could not be duplicated by me.
If you want to be indispensable in your career, you need to possess a unique value that only you can bring. And even when others try to replicate what you do, it doesn’t look like how you do it. It’s not as effective or successful. Your authentic nature can’t be replicated or duplicated even if you share the recipe. It is something special about how you move, operate, and exercise judgment in the moment that can’t be taught.
One of the things that made me indispensable was that I raised my hand for the tough jobs. I volunteered for the challenging assignments, the tough work that most shied away from. It wasn’t easy, but anything worth having is never easy. So, to be indispensable, don’t sit in the seat of comfort. Don’t live in a space of complacency. You must be willing to lean into uncomfortable places and do the work of such high value that you’ll be tested to a point that forces growth and learning. You need to be the person people come to for that secret recipe in your workplace that can’t be replicated.
Number three, you need to have an asymptote mindset. If you remember back in high school or college geometry, an asymptote is a straight line that tries to approach a curve. But when it tries to approach the curve, it never quite meets it. It continues to elevate and aim high because its goal is mastery.
The world is not static and life is not static. Careers and jobs are ever-changing and evolving now more than ever. The global pandemic that catapulted in 2020 taught us, if nothing else, that we can’t plan for tomorrow. You must be agile and ever-evolving to stay indispensable and relevant. Take time to think about how you consistently and intentionally evolve. How do you continue to achieve mastery given your current environment, even if you never fully reach your desired end point? You should focus on the future climate you will one day face.
If you want to stay indispensable in your career, you need to be continuously learning. Your thought equity and how you approach knowledge will become much more critical than the tasks you accomplish. Start by setting Google alerts. Set Google alerts on your career discipline or areas where you want to be a thought leader. Set aside 15 minutes in your day to peruse your alerts and read them. This is a free and effective way to curate content to help you stay current and relevant. You need to read something weekly that keeps you current and aware of growing trends and skills. You need to be the individual on your team that people go to for thought equity and leadership. Aim to be the individual that people come to because your knowledge is broad yet narrow and specific, where it needs to be, where it matters, and where it counts.
Lastly, stop apologizing and be confident in asserting your voice. Women, stop apologizing for your talent and ideas. I often hear women, for lack of a better term, dumb down their ideas in meetings or apologize for a different view or opinion. I want you to own your ideas, gifts, and intellect. Demonstrate your talents and your skills unapologetically. It’s powerful and inspiring, and it’s the gift you were born to give the world. Don’t minimize it. Don’t apologize for it, and don’t shy away from your talent or your gift because you think it’s too big for others or you think it might make you appear arrogant. Confidence is a necessary form of humility. Organizations don’t place accountability and responsibility in the hands of people who doubt themselves. Quite the opposite, they look for confident leaders. Humility lives in the seat of being grateful. Giving the world the best of you is a gift, and that is humility.
Finally, you need to know your worth in business. You need to know that you bring value. You bring a secret recipe that only you can give to your company and the world. You need to have a mindset where you are continuously learning. Learning is not a destination. It’s a journey. If there’s breath in your body, you should be seeking to learn, evolve, and grow. That’s how you’ll be indispensable. If you’re like me, I would never go to a physician’s office, a clinic, or even have my carpet cleaned by someone with no new knowledge. Imagine a surgeon who hasn’t sought out knowledge in twenty years. Would you want that individual performing surgery on you? Think of the work you do from that vantage point. How are you staying competitive and relevant in your career field to make you indispensable and a top choice?
Joy Fitzgerald (aka Speaking Joy) is a coach, best-selling author, and corporate leader who has dedicated her life to motivating and igniting joy into every aspect of a person’s life. Her new book, Finding Authentic Rhythm: How to Win on Your Terms in Corporate America (March 2023), pulls together a wealth of experiences to help women successfully thrive in their careers.
By Joy Fitzgerald