As with many things in life, it’s really easy to jump straight into the tactical. This is certainly true when it comes to our careers. While in job search mode, we spend most of our time tweaking our resume, updating cover letters and scanning job postings. Then, once we clinch a job, our heads go right in the sand, forgetting about the management of our personal brand and larger career journey. That’s because “I already have a job. Why would I need to think about that stuff?” Or, more likely, the fast pace of today’s work environment doesn’t afford you the opportunity to take a breath and lift your head up to see the bigger picture.
The bigger picture, however, is critical.
Getting clear about the broader foundations of your career journey will strengthen every single tangible and tactical element that follows. It’s only through this type of thinking that you can leverage the power of clarity, intentionality and consistency.
Here are seven foundational career journey considerations, and a few caveats, worth pondering:
Know Your Strengths: This type of self-awareness can help point you in the most rewarding of career directions. Without it, you could end up in a wrong-fit career in which you feel ill-equipped or unsuccessful. When strengths are matched with tasks, it creates a certain “I was meant to do this” kind of feeling. The process of identifying your strengths is one of revealing both the inborn and nurtured talents. You can do this by taking a strengths assessment, which asks you a series of questions about preferences and abilities. Another good strategy is to ask for feedback from friends, family and colleagues. They know you best, and have observed certain qualities you exhibit or utilize most strongly. Better yet, do both.
Identify & Embrace Your Passions: How do you know what you’re passionate about? Think about what lights you up. It’s the type of activity that’s linked to what you care about the most, and through which you feel the most authentic. This is because the realm of your passions is linked to whom you are as a unique person. We tend to be passionate about the causes, work or activities with which we’re connected in a very personal way. It’s for this reason that it’s sometimes hard to embrace your passions. At some level, it requires vulnerability. In addition to that, we typically relegate our passion activities to a metaphorical box labeled “impractical,” “a hobby” or “separate from career.” But, when you can identify and embrace your passions, you’ll be a whole lot more likely to close the gap between them and your career journey.
Clarify Your Desired Impact (Not Desired Salary): Too often, our focus is on which career path will enable us to attain the most security and avoid the most instability. It’s important to recognize that these influences come primarily from a place of fear. Yes, there are certainly practical considerations in life, especially when you have others who rely on you for important things like shelter, food, protection, etc. However, an interest in salary can very easily become tunnel vision, blinding you from seeing a deeper need to make a positive contribution through your work. Think first about what type of impact you want to have, before adding in expectations about money.
Let Yourself Dream Without Limits: I don’t know many people, myself included, who regularly give themselves permission to fully explore theoretical possibilities. By holding back in this way, we do ourselves a disservice. If you don’t allow yourself to explore and create a bold vision for the future, then you’ll find that you only realize incremental changes along the way. Stretch your thinking to a new level, so that when you come back to “reality” you’ll reach much farther than you would have before.
Recruit Mentors: Asking for support and guidance can be hard. It means you have to admit that you don’t know everything. But – well, you don’t. The advice and wisdom of others can be extremely valuable as you navigate your own career. Be proactive about identifying individuals you admire and respect, and who have been down the same road you’re traveling. Lean on them for insights, best practices and lessons learned.
Work on Your “Soft Skills”: These more right brain oriented skills are becoming increasingly important in today’s workplace. Focus your personal and professional development in this direction prior to expecting major career advancement. These competencies include: self-awareness, listening, empathy, relationship-building, and persuasiveness, among others.
Cultivate a Willingness to Experiment and Learn: Sometimes our career journey never really gets going because of a fear of commitment. Even if things aren’t totally clear from the start, you’ve got to get into motion around a certain direction before you can discover what’s working and what’s not. Look for big and small ways that you can cultivate a willingness and spirit of experimentation. Then, ensure you take the time to debrief and evaluate as you go, sensitive to where learning is happening and where adjustment might be needed.
Now, for a few caveats:
Know It Will Evolve: Without question, your career journey will evolve over time. Even after you’ve clarified the foundational elements mentioned above, your career is dynamic. It will be affected by changes and developments in both your personal and professional life. Although the control-freak in you would prefer a completely predictable career path, you’ll need to allow the process due space and time to reveal itself. If you stay tuned-in to your core strengths, passions and desired impact, you’ll have the best chance of navigating to a more fulfilled place on the other side of change.
You’ll Have to Take Risks: You can never have perfect or complete information about any particular decision. Sometimes, you’ll have to trust your intuition and take a risk for the sake of moving your career forward or in the direction of more meaningful work. By nature, a career that’s developing will involve the occasional courageous step outside of comfort zones and into the unfamiliar.
Failure’s Part of the Journey: Building a solid foundation for your career journey doesn’t mean that you won’t have to experience failure. Even if you’re headed in a direction that’s most resonant with your core, you’re going to stumble at times. Successful career journeys are made up of a mix of successes, risks, sure-bets and failures. If you’re not experiencing some moments of struggle, then it’s probably time to get curious about whether you’re a little too comfortable. The important thing about failing, of course, is how you respond. Do you let your inner self-doubt critics take over and use failure as a way to confirm your supposed inadequacy? Or, do you see it as a part of the bigger picture, and a chance to incorporate new learning?