If you could travel back to when you were fresh out of college, knowing everything that you know now, would you re-choose your current career?
Maybe you started down your career path due to family pressure or a salary that seemed too good to pass up and have never even considered what your dream career path is. Maybe you started your career full of passion and excitement but after years of the grind, you’re beginning to feel stuck in a rut and like you’re not living up to your full potential. Or maybe you love your current career and you want to make sure you’re poised for advancement and doing all that you can to continue moving forward.
Whatever the case, it’s important to carve out time to regularly think about your career vision, evaluate your progress and make a plan for progression so you can move forward with direction and purpose. We recommend making this an annual appointment on your calendar to keep yourself accountable and ensure that you’re actively managing your career as opposed to passively going with the flow and letting others determine your future.
Defining Your Career Vision
Everyone has their own definition of success, rooted in their personal values, interests and passions. For some, success might look like reaching the C-Suite and being able to call the shots in your organization while for others it could be having less responsibility but more freedom to spend time with family or travel.
So, what does success look like for you? Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. Your definition might change over time (and that’s okay!) but by defining your vision and setting goals, you keep yourself moving forward with purpose rather than stalling out and falling into a rut.
Begin by thinking about what a successful career looks like for you in one year, five years and ten years. What problems are you solving? What skills are you using? What does your day-to-day look like? How are you showing up? What is the culture of your workplace? How does your job fit with the rest of your life? What is the legacy you’re creating?
During this part of the process, we really encourage you to be aware of any limiting beliefs that come up. Many of us are afraid of the unknown and would rather stick with a mediocre or bad situation than confront something new. For example, if you dream of becoming a consultant who works from home 3 days per week but worry you’re not disciplined enough to be successful, the tendency may be to stay in your current less-than-satisfying situation rather than face your fears. Don’t get too caught up in the “how” at this stage. Ask yourself, “What would I do if fear were no object?” and let your mind go where it wants.
The more you know about yourself, the easier it will be to make successful career choices so this is also a good time to clarify your values, identify your strengths and weaknesses and ensure that you can clearly articulate your leadership brand.
Creating Your Career Roadmap
Once you have an idea of what your ideal career looks like, it’s time to begin reverse engineering your path to success! You may not know how to get to your end goal, but chances are you have some idea of how to take the next step (and if not, that’s where your network comes into play, but more on that later!). Break down your big vision into specific incremental goals and milestones with deadlines to keep you accountable. Then schedule time to regularly evaluate your progress and determine what you’re doing well, areas for improvement and if you’re on the right track.
Remember that there’s more than one path to success, so while your goals should point you in the right direction, don’t be so married to them that you close yourself off to new opportunities that you might not have been able to anticipate previously.
Who Do You Need to Become?
Now that you’ve defined your goals, it’s time to ask yourself “who do I need to become to reach my next level of success?” Some questions you may want to ask yourself include:
- What skills or education do I need to grow into this person? How can I learn this or who can I learn this from? What resources do I need or currently have at my disposal to make this happen?
- What experiences do I need to grow into this person? How can I gain this experience?
- What relationships do I need to cultivate or nurture? Who can open doors for me and how can I add value to them?
- How do I need to show up? Analyze how you currently interact with others (feedback will be critical here). How does this align with your vision of the leader you’re becoming?
- What thoughts or beliefs do I need to let go of that are no longer serving me? What new thoughts and beliefs do I want to invite in to support my advancement?
Are You on the Right Career Path?
You’ve crafted your action plan and clarified who you need to become to step into your big vision. That’s something to be proud of! Now it’s time to take all of this information and see how (or if) your current job aligns with your future goals.
Questions to Consider:
- Are your job responsibilities aligned with your passions and interests? Of course there will always be mundane day-to-day work that needs to get done, but are you working to solve problems that excite you?
- Are you learning skills or forming relationships that will help you achieve your long-term goals?
- Do you feel as though you are being intellectually challenged and that there is room for growth?
- Do you find meaning and purpose in your work?
- Do you feel an overall sense of balance in your life on this career path? If this isn’t the right long-term fit, does it allow you time to pursue your calling on the side?
- Do you feel appreciated and supported by your managers and colleagues?
How To Know When It’s Time to Move On
That being said, sometimes you might find that the job or career field you’re in truly isn’t the right fit. Just because you majored in something in college, took a job in that area and spent years doing the job, doesn’t mean you can’t pivot or try something new.
If you find that:
- You’re constantly operating on autopilot and disengaged at work.
- You’re stuck in a permanent state of burnout that no amount of vacation can cure.
- There’s a misalignment between your values and those of your company.
- You’re no longer excited by or find purpose and meaning in the work that you do.
- You don’t feel supported or that there’s room for growth in your current company, despite articulating your concerns.
- You find yourself continuously compromising in other important areas of your life
- You just want to try something new! Truth bomb: You don’t have to continue doing something just because you’re good at it or because you always have. (If you’re looking for your permission slip to try something new that excites you, here it is!)
Once you’ve assessed how your current job aligns with your goals, take the next steps whether that means asking for new responsibilities in your current role, voicing your aspirations to your manager, having a candid conversation about your concerns or seeking out a new job altogether!
<h2″>Leverage Your Network </h2″>
Whether you feel like you’re on the right track or need to pull a career 180, one thing is certain – competence alone will not get you where you want to go. The only way to advance your career, no matter what your goal, is with help and support from others.
When contemplating career moves, reach out to your network to learn more about their jobs and to ask for advice or tips related to your goals. Set up informational interviews or job shadowing experiences where possible to learn more about what you aspire to be. (This can be particularly helpful if you’re having trouble seeing your big vision and want to “try on” a few different career paths).
Having a network of trusted individuals will also be key to receiving feedback that is critical for measuring your progress and making sure that you’re on the right track. Ask others including managers, colleagues, employees, and peers who will be candid with you about what they see as your strengths and areas for improvement. Then you can compare this feedback with your career vision and determine which strengths to leverage and where you need to develop. The more diverse your sources of feedback are, the more you’ll learn.
Your network will also be vital in identifying that next opportunity, whether it’s inside or outside your current organization. Keeping in touch and letting people know your accomplishments and goals is key.
But don’t be the person who only reaches out when they need something. Small gestures like remembering birthdays, introducing people who can help each other or even sharing a relevant article or social media post can make a big impression and help you cultivate strong relationships.
The events of the past year have led many of us to rethink the ways in which we live and work. If you haven’t defined what success looks like for you and created your career roadmap, there’s never been a better time than now. Don’t waste another second hoping for the right opportunities to fall into your lap or for management to notice your contributions and reward you with a promotion. Use these tips to take your career into your own hands and create the life you want!