Empowered and Intentional

business woman looking at many arrows of possible career paths

5 minutes

CUES CEO’s advice to navigate a fulfilling career

I recently received this message via LinkedIn: "I'm eager to create a life and career that I love, but I know that women sometimes face different hurdles in the professional world. What advice do you have for me?"

A similar question lands in my inbox or voicemail time and time again, and it's one that resonates deeply with me. Just last week, I received no fewer than seven emails, calls and messages from young professional women seeking guidance on this very topic. They're eager to create lives and careers that are both successful and satisfying, but they're also acutely aware of the obstacles that can make this journey more complex for women.

Of course, many men find themselves grappling with similar questions and aspirations. The desire for a meaningful, impactful career is universal. But as a woman who has navigated the twists and turns of the corporate world, I know firsthand that the path can be riddled with unique challenges and double standards.

So, when I connect with these ambitious young women, what do I tell them? How do I advise them to approach their careers in a way that is both empowered and intentional?

Let me share with you the key pieces of advice I find myself returning to repeatedly. These strategies have served me well in my own journey, and I believe they can help any professional—but especially women—navigate their careers with purpose and fulfillment.

Rise Above the Grind

If you're a high performer, it's easy to get caught up in the pursuit of the next big thing—the next promotion, the next job title, the next impressive company on your resume. While there's nothing wrong with striving for those things, it's important to take a step back and ask yourself why you're making theses career choices.

Are you chasing a title because it aligns with your skills and aspirations or because it sounds impressive? Are you taking on a new role because it's a genuine opportunity for growth, or because you feel like you “should”? As high performers, we're often capable of excelling at just about anything we set our minds to. But just because we can do something well doesn't mean it's what we will be happiest doing.

Action Item: Set aside time for self-reflection. Journal about your passions, skills and desired impact. Use these insights to create a personal mission statement that can guide your career decisions.

An individual development plan can help plot out a map for your career development. Download our IDP template to get started.

Identify With Your Discipline

Too often, we tie our professional worth to the organization we work for, forgetting that our true value lies in the skills and expertise we bring to the table. Your employer may change, but your discipline—whether it's marketing, engineering, finance or something else entirely—is the thread that will carry you through your entire career.

By investing in your own professional development, building a strong network within your field and staying up to date on industry trends, you will cultivate transferable skills that will serve you well no matter where you work. And whatever you do, don't let a lack of company-sponsored training hold you back—take responsibility for your own growth.

Action Item: Identify one skill or area of expertise you want to develop and create a self-directed learning plan. This could include reading industry publications, attending online events or conferences, or finding a mentor in your field.

CUES has several resources to help. The CUES Advanced Management Program from Cornell University helps attendees gain insights into the C-suite. During this nine-month program, you’ll learn about the role and work of the CEO, CMO, COO and much more, so you’ll be ready when the opportunity for advancement comes.

Start Where You Are

So many young professionals feel stuck in unfulfilling jobs, dreaming of the day when they can quit and "make a difference." But the truth is, you don't have to wait for the perfect job to start making a difference. This is especially true in credit unions, which are uniquely aligned with the values that many young professionals hold dear. You can “make a difference” right where you are, in whatever role you currently hold.

Whether you're working in member services, lending, marketing or any other department within a credit union, you can contribute to an organization that is actively making a difference in people's lives. Every interaction with a member, every loan approved, every financial literacy program delivered—these are all ways to align your daily work with your values and desire for impact.

Moreover, the collaborative and inclusive culture of credit unions provides ample opportunities for young professionals to take initiative, propose new ideas and shape the direction of the organization. Credit unions are often receptive to the fresh perspectives and passion that young professionals bring, whether it's suggesting a new product or service to better serve members' needs, spearheading a community outreach program or advocating for more sustainable practices,

If you work at a credit union, recognize that you are already part of an industry that is making a difference. Embrace the opportunities to infuse your values into your daily work, and don't hesitate to take initiative and propose new ways to enhance the positive impact of your organization.

Action Item: Identify one way you can make a positive impact in your current role and take steps to make it happen. Remember, even small actions can have a big ripple effect.

For inspiration, follow the CUES Emerge class of 2024. This year, 36 emerging credit union leaders will receive coaching, training and valuable resources to enhance their leadership acumen and strategic thinking abilities. Participants who self-select into the competition phase will create business cases to implement at their own credit unions.

At the end of the day, navigating your career with intention is about staying true to yourself, investing in your own growth, and finding ways to make a difference wherever you are. It's not always easy, but it's always worth it. So keep pushing, keep learning, and most importantly, keep staying true to what lights you up. You have the power to create the fulfilling, impactful career you deserve.  (And P.S. You’re still welcome to call me.)

Heather McKissick, I-CUDE, is CEO of CUES. Her 30-year not-for-profit career encompasses six different industry sectors. She is a former EVP at University Federal Credit Union, Austin, Texas, where she served for nine years. Prior to that, she was CEO of Leadership Austin, an organization dedicated to developing community and civic leaders across Central Texas. McKissick is the previous director of organizational development at one of the largest non-profit healthcare systems in the US and was an administrator and faculty member at St. Edward’s University. 

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