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  • Writer's pictureSorina I. Crisan, PhD

Boost Your Career with 4 Essential Categories for Self-Improvement

In every conversation held at Persuasive Discourse, industry experts share their guidance for aspiring professionals while also shedding light on the intricacies of their respective fields. This article provides a comprehensive resource for career self-improvement by highlighting 20 actionable steps that transcend geographical and professional boundaries, based on the career advice offered by our latest 20 interviewees who work and live in diverse countries such as Denmark, France, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.S.A.

The first part of the article offers a brief overview of the key steps for career self-improvement by categorizing them into four main themes: Self-Discovery and Purpose, Relationships and Networking, Adaptability and Learning, and Career Planning and Strategy. The subsequent section unveils 20 impactful quotes from our interviewees, each accompanied by a detailed career-related action step that you might like to consider adding to your life.

The insights presented in this article serve a twofold purpose: firstly, to enable readers to contemplate and integrate our interviewees' wisdom into their own career journeys, and secondly, to prompt a moment of self-reflection and encourage individuals to identify areas in their own lives that warrant improvement.

Boost Your Career with 4 Essential Categories for Self-Improvement, Sorina Crisan Matthey de l'Endroit, Ph.D., Persuasive Discourse

Note: This article is based on excerpts from interviews published by Persuasive Discourse, between October 2020 and December 2023.

20 Key Steps for Career Self-Improvement

Self-Discovery and Purpose

  1. Dare to Design Your Life

  2. Conduct a Personal Values Assessment to Help Balance Ambition with Perspective

  3. Identify Your Passion and Create a Growth Plan

  4. Follow Your Heart Despite Critics

Relationships and Networking

5. Build Strong Friendships and Cultivate a Supportive Network

6. Deepen Work-Based Connections

7. Make Joint Decisions for Growth

8. Constantly Build Your Professional Network

Adaptability and Learning

11. Embrace Adaptability and Reinvention

10. Focus on Impactful Questions

11. Cultivate Lifelong Learning

12. Actively Cultivate Curiosity and Confidence

13. Read Widely and Embrace Feedback

14. Unlock Global Opportunities Through Continuous Learning

15. Challenge Conventions

Career Planning and Strategy

16. Create a Dedicated Workspace

17. Expand Your Experiences

18. Define and Navigate Your Unique Path to Craft a Fulfilling Journey

19. Inject Passion into Daily Tasks

20. Embrace the Journey, Avoid Shortcuts and Commit to the Long Path

Career Advice and Self-Improvement Action Steps


a1. Dare to Design Your Life

“I encourage you all to dare to be remarkable. Dare to design the life you envision, connecting the dots between your strengths, passions, interests, talents, and genius. Dare to create that life so you can truly live your life as the best version of yourself.” – Laura Penn, Ph.D.

Action Step: Create a vision board that visually represents your strengths, passions, and talents. Reflect on how your current life aligns with this vision.

2. Conduct a Personal Values Assessment to Help Balance Ambition with Perspective

“Academically speaking, I think that the best thing is to simultaneously realize that it is a big privilege to be in academia because it gives you the ability to think freely, while having a lot of freedom in your professional life, but you also need to realize that it is just a job. Academia should not be taken too seriously. It is an important job but, all jobs are important and there are many other things to do of value other than being in academia. And so, you should not lose the perspective on the fact that it is simply another job, quite a privileged job (i.e., in terms of what you get to do), but it is still just another job. There are much more important things in life than academia.” – Jonathan Luke Austin, PhD

Action Step: Identify and prioritize your core values. Reflect on how well your current career aligns with these values. Develop a plan to incorporate more of your values into your professional life, whether through projects, collaborations, or seeking new opportunities.

3. Identify Your Passion and Create a Growth Plan

“This might sound obvious but try to find out what you are passionate about and then focus on constantly becoming better at it. While the former point might be more important during a person’s younger years, I think that the latter point (i.e., the mindset of working towards improving oneself on a constant basis), is the key to long-term success. And it is important to note that these two elements are closely linked together: in the sense that having an intrinsic motivation and passion for something specific will make it easier and more pleasant to continuously work towards becoming better at it.

And there is one more, maybe less obvious, point that I would like to add. At least in my experience, I came to realize that often, the role of luck and coincidence seem to be grossly underestimated when it comes to a career. This is not to say that it is not worthwhile to put in the hard work (i.e., get good grades at university, etc.) However, I see this more as being necessary and not particularly as being a sufficient condition for someone to obtain a good job or an internship. This means that you will, of course, have to do the hard work, but that at the same time you will also need to make sure that you do not put yourself down if you do not get your dream job or internship right away. ” – Fabien Merz

Action Step: Reflect on what truly ignites your enthusiasm within your field. Develop a detailed plan outlining specific skills, knowledge areas, or experiences you want to enhance. Regularly assess and adjust your plan to ensure continual improvement. Embrace the journey, recognizing that hard work, luck and adaptability play vital roles in long-term success.

4. Follow Your Heart Despite Critics

Ask yourself, “What do I really love to do? Once you have your answer, do that and at the same time make sure to do many very different things throughout your career, as long as you love what you are doing. My suggestion sounds banal in a way, but it has always worked for me. And second, I suggest not to listen too much to those who say: ‘This is dangerous. What are you going to do if it does not work?’ Well, if you realize that your choice does not work then at that point, you follow your heart again to choose your next step.” – Beatrice Schulter

Action Step: Identify a passion or interest you've hesitated to pursue due to external opinions. Develop a plan to incorporate this element into your life, despite potential skepticism.


5. Build Strong Friendships & Cultivate a Supportive Network

“I am a big fan of the story of Peter Pan and my credo is: Never grow up. Besides this important point I would like to offer four suggestions.

First, it is very important that you have good friends.

Second, it is imperative that you identify your own strengths. I am addressing this point because I believe that identifying each person’s personal strengths early on is very important when working in a team. In a team each person has their own so-called superpower. And because most of the projects are never just a one woman, or a one man show, the combination of different people who have very different skill sets is what makes a team great. For example, I could have never built the Give Children a Hand Foundation and the Bionicman comic book series by myself.

Third, your work should be passion driven. And, when your work is passion driven then, you can achieve your goals and dreams. As Disney says: “If you can dream it, you can make it.”

And fourth, believe in your team, because only when you are working together with others you can make a difference.” – Michel Fornasier

Action Step: Recognize and use your strengths in collaboration. Pursue passion-driven work; dream beyond limits. Trust your team; collective efforts create impact.

6. Deepen Work-Based Connections

“I would suggest becoming deeply knowledgeable about what has already been done,” in your line of work “and not to be afraid of contacting the” professionals or “authors and researchers who have done the work. It is easy to locate people on the internet, and many are very generous with their time and eager to be helpful. Many in fact consider it flattering to hear from young scholars who are interested in continuing or building upon the same or similar line of research.” And, while you are still pursuing an academic program, try to get “involved in existing faculty projects and to develop positive working relationships with both the faculty, as well as with fellow students who may turn out to be collaborators in the future.” – Carol S. Lidz, Psy.D.

Action Step: Reach out to two professionals, researchers or authors whose work you admire. Seek to establish connections through respectful inquiries or express appreciation for their contributions.

7. Make Joint Decisions for Growth

If you choose to move to a new city or country due to your partner's new job, “I think it is always good to see the choice to move to a new environment together as a couple’s project. By adopting this kind of mentality, it allows one to see the bigger picture. Meaning, it can help one to place things into perspective and to avoid the feelings of frustration that may arise from being an UN staff spouse who chooses to follow their partner to a new country where they might: (1) not able to find a job or, (2) regret that prior to the move they might have had a higher earning job, with more responsibilities, etc. And, when that situation arises, it is important to be able to think: Yes, this is what is happening right now, but I know why I am doing this.” – Gaspard Nordmann 

Action Step: Initiate a conversation with your partner about a joint project or goal. Emphasize how it aligns with personal and professional growth for both individuals.

8. Constantly Build Your Professional Network

“I think the best advice is to reach out to other young scholars who are doing research within this line of work because today, there are so many excellent young scholars interested in better understanding the ‘elites.’ I think there is a vibrant and growing community of researchers around the topics of elites, power, and inequality.

Further, many of us are active on social media platforms such as twitter, and that can offer a good place from where to obtain the most recent information regarding publications, conferences, and a variety of research meetings that are linked to this field of study.” – Felix Bühlmann, PhD

Action Step: Identify and connect with professionals in your field through social media platforms or professional forums. Actively participate in discussions, share insights, and seek advice. Engage in ongoing conversations to stay informed about the latest developments, publications, and opportunities within your area of interest.


11. Embrace Adaptability and Reinvention

To be successful in one's career, employees should “embody the ability to adapt to different situations and new countries with great ease.

For those individuals who are soon to move with their spouses to a new country, I would like to advise that they try to always stay open, constantly look for leads, and learn how to quickly adapt to new environments. And, if they cannot find a job in a new country quickly, then they have to learn how to use both their prior positive and negative work experiences to professionally reinvent themselves and fit the needs of the job market they wish to join.” – Paloma Redondo 

Action Step: List three potential skills or industries you could adapt to in the next year. Create a plan for acquiring them through online courses, networking, or mentorship.

10. Focus on Impactful Questions

“The work you choose to do matters” so make sure to “ask questions that are big, hard, and important” – Emily Hencken Ritter, Ph.D.

Action Step: Identify a significant question in your field of interest. Develop a plan to explore it through research, collaboration, or practical application.

11. Cultivate Lifelong Learning

“Do not choose to specialize too quickly [in your career], so you may cultivate the skill of flexibility. Like this, you will be able to learn skills that will be useful to you for the rest of your life.” – Françoise Lamotte

Action Step: Enroll in a course or workshop outside your expertise. Embrace the mindset of continuous learning and adaptability.

12. Actively Cultivate Curiosity and Confidence

“Be curious. Do not limit your studies to only what is required of you in school. Explore a variety of books, listen to different podcasts, and visit all the Châteaux, if you can. The world of wine is neither dusty nor pompous, it is a living heritage that continuously evolves.

Embrace your personal and career journey as it will undoubtedly prove valuable. And ultimately, have confidence in your abilities and in yourself.” – Margot Smadja 

Action Step: Cultivate curiosity by exploring diverse sources of knowledge. Read widely, listen to podcasts, and engage with different experiences. Embrace every opportunity as part of your personal and career journey. Have confidence in your abilities and in yourself, recognizing that continuous learning and an open mind contribute to your growth.

13. Read Widely and Embrace Feedback

“A good reader makes for a good writer.” And know that “one needs to be a good listener” and “be open to feedback and constructive criticism, so that they may continue to grow. ” – Amanda Castillo

Action Step: Commit to reading one book from a genre or subject you usually avoid. Actively seek feedback on a recent project to foster continuous improvement.

14. Unlock Global Opportunities Through Continuous Learning

“You do not have to already be “international,” to be interested in international issues!” – Anne-Sophie Delval, PhD

Action Step: Identify a skill gap in your career. Enroll in a course, attend workshops, or seek mentorship to bridge that gap. Every acquired skill expands your career horizons.

15. Challenge Conventions

“In general I think it is a good advice in research that you should try to follow your passion. Be bold and be curious, be original, and do not be afraid to think outside established theories and methodologies, and most importantly, try to find your own place in peace and conflict research.” – Annika Björkdahl, PhD

Action Step: Identify a project or aspect in your career where you can think outside established norms. Be bold in exploring unconventional approaches and methodologies. Embrace your curiosity so you may carve out your unique space in your field.


16. Create a Dedicated Workspace

“‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ – wrote Virginia Wolf in A Room of One’s Own – this advice applies to writing any form of non-fiction as well, including academic writing. To be able to do research and write one needs a desk and a room to work. This is often overlooked by management gurus who invite readers to focus on big dreams and productivity. In my experience though, what I find essential for research and writing is having a room with a door that I can close.” – Cristina Teleki, PhD

Action Step: Designate a specific area in your home as a workspace. Personalize it for comfort and focus, and establish a daily routine for productive work.

17. Expand Your Experiences

Keep “an open mind and not confining yourself to just one path. Trust that everything you experience will eventually come together to form a unique tapestry.” – Fumi Kurihara

Action Step: Identify a skill or area of interest unrelated to your current profession. Dedicate time each month to explore and develop proficiency in that domain.

18. Define & Navigate Your Unique Path to Craft a Fulfilling Journey

The world of academia is “fascinating and to be a researcher [is] a privilege, but the path leading to it is neither linear nor pre-paved. So if you go for it, be prepared to lead the way, to find your own place, and make sure that you always enjoy what you are doing.” – Sara Hellmüller, PhD

Action Step: Identify your career goals, assess your strengths, and create a personalized roadmap. Regularly evaluate and adjust your path to align with your evolving interests and aspirations.

18. Inject Passion into Daily Tasks

“Take a chance. Play with ideas and if you’re passionate about them, that passion should come through in your work.” – David Sylvan, PhD

Action Step: Regardless of your job, infuse tasks with enthusiasm and creativity. Identify one aspect of your current responsibilities and explore how injecting passion can enhance your approach and results.

20. Embrace the Journey, Avoid Shortcuts & Commit to the Long Path

“My advice to young scholars is to avoid shortcuts in life, particularly in research and in academia.

My students, at times, have asked me for advice on how to succeed in the academia. I honestly do not know the answer to this question. What I know is that I picked what resonated with my heart and I faithfully followed it.

At times, the decisions we make do not yield the results we are looking for and they take us in a different direction than the one hoped for. It is important to trust yourself and your choices, and to learn how to live with good or bad outcomes. So, do not try shortcuts. A longer path gives you more experience and maybe, along the way, you can find something better that you have never even imagined before the start of your academic journey.” – Sannia Abdullah, PhD

Action Step: Identify a project or goal in your career. Resist the temptation of shortcuts and commit to the longer, more thorough approach. Embrace the journey, learn from the process, and remain open to unforeseen opportunities along the way.

Thank you for reading.

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Sannia Abdullah Close, PhD. Interview for Persuasive Discourse, by Sorina I. Crisan PhD. Photo from the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) webpage.

Sorina Crisan – Matthey de l'Endroit, PhD

Researcher, Analyst, Interviewer, & Writer in International Relations & Related Fields


Illustrations by: The main article photo is by 89Stocker, courtesy of Canva photo gallery. Dr. Crisan – Matthey de l'Endroit’s profile photo is made available by Konstantin Kleine Photography.


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