Are you where you want to be at this point in your job and your career? Are you happy with your progress so far and do you have a plan to move forward to your ultimate goal? If not, read on.
The first and most critical thing you must understand is that you are solely responsible for your own career. You don’t want to be sitting around with your head down, hoping that someone will notice your great work and promote you. Nine times out of 10, that’s not going to happen. If you don’t have a solid career plan that you are actively executing, chances are you will not move in the direction you want, in the timeframe you want to do it in. If you are serious about jumpstarting and progressing forward with your career, it’s never too late, nor too early, to create and start executing this plan.
So many people have looked back at the end of their work life as they are about to retire and said, “I wish I had done this,” “I wish I had taken that risk,” “I wish I had gone in that direction instead.” The only way to be sure to live the rest of your life with no regrets is to have a solid plan and work it all the time.
Here are 5 steps to get you started:
1. Figure out what you really want. Your purpose, your “why.” What do you want the next 3, 5 or 10 years to look like in your life and career? What role, job, and location do you want to be in and how much money do you want to make? This is probably the hardest piece and will involve some sort of visioning exercise. There are tons of different ways to do this but it doesn’t need to be a long and involved process. A simple exercise is to take 20 to 30 minutes, get rid of all distractions, sit down and write out a vision story. It doesn’t matter how far you get, how grammatically correct it is, or whether others would approve. What matters is that you pick a timeline (x years out) and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and begin creating a picture of your life as you envision it. As you think about this vision story, here are some questions that might help:
- First of all, what does success mean to you? Not only in monetary terms but in terms of family and friends, lifestyle, impact. What are the attributes of this successful life and what type of an impact do you want to make on the world?
- What does your life look like at the end of this timeframe? Think about your work, your family and friends, your health and wellbeing, your finances, your spiritual life, your hobbies, your place of residence, etc. What has happened during this time; what do you want to have accomplished?
- What are your unique strengths that you bring to the table that will help you get to this new life? What can you and only you do that, if done well, can make a real difference?
- What are you passionate about and how are your passions being used? What values are important and are they reflected in this story?
- What do you not want to miss out on? What should you have said yes to?
If you find you need some more serious reinvention, there is a great book by Brian Tracy called just that: “Reinvention.” And there are a lot of other visioning exercises to be found out there as well.
2. What are the steps to get there? Now that you have a better idea of where you want to be in x years, what are the steps that will get you there? Is it a progression of roles or one big step? Do you need to leave your existing company and find a new one or a whole new profession? Or get promoted from within?
Outline the first step in detail that you need to take and the timeline involved. What research, resources or training might be involved? Then list all the steps that come after to take you to the final goal.
That next step doesn’t have to be up – it could be lateral if it will give you better insight and experience for the real promotion you are looking for. Pattie Sellers coined the phrase “Careers are like a jungle gym, not a ladder” and sideways can often be a smart move. If you need to change companies or professions, there is a lot more work involved; including researching the company you would most want to work for, networking to help your chances, job search, preparing for the interview and all that goes along with a big move like that. Also know that plans change and it is OK to be flexible depending on what you discover along the way.
3. What do you need to learn and become? Women often hold themselves back by a lack of self-confidence, by not raising our hands, or by lowering our expectations of what we can achieve. It is well known that women don’t apply for jobs until they think they meet almost 100% of the requirements, while men only worry about meeting about 60% of a job’s requirements. This means you can often miss out on things because you think you aren’t ready.
Plan out what you need to do get yourself ready, but don’t hold yourself back unnecessarily. Think about how you can take more risks. Think about who you need to become to be the person this new job requires. Jim Rohn says that “If you want more, you need to become more.” Also think about what you need to leave behind to become this person. What is holding you back? What habits and behaviors are not helping you and what do you need to change? Continuous learning will ensure you are ahead of the curve on the knowledge side and give you more confidence to take the next step, especially if you are keeping up with the latest thought leaders in your industry. What can you contribute that no one else can?
4. Who can help you with this progression? Does your immediate manager know your career plans? And even more importantly, does your immediate manager and those above her know your good work, your capabilities and your ambitions? Women are often reluctant to blow their own horn but there are ways to do this that are authentic and not obnoxious. It is important to involve your manager in your career plan, but if they aren’t the type who develops their employees, or cares, find someone else to help and promote you. Don’t exclude peers – form a partnership with co-workers and promote each other.
Mentors and sponsors are crucial for career progression but they should be chosen strategically and thoughtfully. Asking a stranger to be your mentor rarely works but approaching a stranger with a pointed well-thought-out inquiry can yield good results. Create a short but impactful elevator speech or series of thoughtful questions or comments you can use when you encounter someone who could help you with your career. It sounds cliché, but it happens: You step into an elevator, alone, and in pops the Vice President of the division where you want to work. You can either stand there tongue tied or have a well-practiced phrase or two that will get them to take notice and maybe even help you in your mission. It happened to me once with the founder of our company and I was not prepared. After that I was always prepared, but the opportunity never came again.
5. Execute the plan: You have created a great career plan and are excited about getting going. Then life gets in the way – you get busy, distracted, your org has a big project you have to work on and the year goes by. Planning is the easy part, executing the plan is not that easy. Set a measurable goal for each of the steps that you need to take and find a way to hold yourself accountable; get an accountability partner or hire a coach. The difference between a dream or fantasy and a goal you will surely achieve is threefold. You need to 1) write it down, 2) have a specific plan to achieve the goal (with deadlines), and 3) execute on the plan on an ongoing basis – do something every day or week to move it forward. Have your plan visible, check in frequently with it and have a way to measure your progress. Be realistic but have the deadlines on your calendar. If you get off track, and you will, just get right back to it.
At the end of your career, as you look back at all you have achieved, you will thank your younger self for taking that time to plan and have the discipline and perseverance to see it through. It will make all the difference in the world – the life you settle for, or the dream you’ve planned for.
If you need more detail or support on any of these steps, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org