And the whole room to nod their heads furiously: absolutely, you must be clear on what you want to achieve, goals, objectives etc etc etc
Then I move on to each person in the same room and ask them what do they want to achieve career-wise, you know, goals, objectives etc etc etc
And it’s waffle time! I love waffles (make mine a Liege waffle please) but not this type of waffle: “yes, but…”, “kinda this…”, “welllll,…”
I’m being mean? maybe but if that’s any consolation I spent a good chunk of time career-waffling myself. I was quite good at it, my waffling being quite rational and convincing.
Lack of clarity is like putting a knife in your career plan.
Lack of clarity breeds procrastination which breeds lack of action which results in … not much.
Or you end up doing what other people think is right for you and, let’s face it, that’s often more what they think is right for the organisation or worse, what they think is right for them.
Either way it is not very satisfying and my guess is that if you are reading this it is not a situation that satisfies you.
After close scrutiny I’ve found there are 2 types of “clarity-less” people:
I am clear but I don’t dare to own it (sometimes not even to myself).
It’s OK not to share with everyone, you may have had experiences in the past which make you wary of opening up on your ambitions however try and own it to yourself (that’s important for the next step!). You are not only worthy of your ambitions but you are also very likely to be able to achieve them – as crazy as it may seem today.
And no-one can judge or belittle your ambitions: So you want to be CEO of the organisation you work for, great! You want to hand in your laptop and be a full-time mum, great!
What matters is that you are clear on what you want and that’s a major step.
There are a hundred and one reasons why you don’t dare to share it but they usually fall into 2 groups: “What I think of myself” and “What others think of me”.
With regards to the latter, you cannot control what others think of you, not matter how hard you try, what you do and how you do it YOU CANNOT CONTROL WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF YOU (pls get that tatooed somewhere so I don’t have to keep telling you, thx). Therefore put that one to bed and put all your energy, focus and time on what you can control: What I think of myself.
Now list/mindmap/draw/record what you think of yourself in relation to what you want your career to be:
I can/can’t because…, I need …, I believe …, I am …, I am not …, I have/have not …, I want …, I desire …, I wish ….
Feel free to throw in all your beliefs as they make you who you are, whether you think they are helpful of not: eg. I believe it’s been difficult for women to earn their place in the workplace so I shouldn’t waste my qualifications but I want to stay home with my children.
This list will help you clarify not only your objectives but also what’s in the way and what supports you in achieving your objectives. Secondly this list will provide you with the start of an action plan. Take each item and focus on the solution so you can make it happen. There will be ups and downs, sure, but your clarity will always help you see through the clouds.
Last thing, open up about it: a trusted friend, your partner or a colleague, you will be amazed at their reaction, they might even provide you with a different angle you hadn’t envisaged. You may also uncover some training needs to achieve your objectives.
Look for a mentor or a coach if your list highlighted aspects that you believe you need support with.
I am totally unclear about my step next let alone what I want my career to be!
Firstly ask yourself the question again: am I totally unclear or do I not dare acknowledge what I truly aspire to? If it’s the latter see above
Your answer is still “I haven’t got the foggiest”? Then read on.
Book some quiet time and don’t have big expectations that the clouds are going to suddenly part, light is going to beam down on you while a choir of angels sing some heavenly tune and you uncover the meaning of life (been there, it doesn’t happen). The likelihood is that it will be a recurring process. Each time you’ll become a bit clearer and you’ll keep trudging forward on this muddy path and after a while you’ll look back and realise that, actually, you’ve come a long way. Sorry not to make this more glamorous but I believe that’s how it works for 99% of us.
Back to your quiet time, ask yourself some questions and see what comes up, don’t force some deep and meaningful answers, this is between you and you.
- What do I like to do? What do I do naturally or that comes to me easily? I can do this for hours and the time flies…
- People often comment that I’m good at …
- If I had a magic wand I would…
- Who are the people that inspire me from a work professional perspective? I can ask 3 of my heroes for advice what would I ask?
- What do I imagine my worklife to be in 5 years (it’s not an interview, answer with your heart)
You can also make up your own questions or ask for feedback, there is no regimented way to do this.
However you must stay intentional. That means that you are doing this for the purpose of clarifying your career objective.
When you get beginnings of answers (you see, I keep my expectations low!) act upon it. Action is really helpful in this process, intentional action specifically. And don’t use excuses to shy away from action, you may not be able to get advice from Steve Jobs but actually the Head of IT might be able to provide some answers. Little by little the picture gets clearer and you can start forming a more focused career plan.
Important point: nothing is final and you can change your mind
Of course you can change your mind, the wonderful career plan you had 5 years ago might have changed and that’s fine: new opportunities you couldn’t have thought of arose, new interests, life changes. It doesn’t mean you lack direction, on the contrary, you are clear enough on your career path to see when a change of direction needs to occur or when this path is no longer relevant.
In conclusion, I urge to do the work to gain clarity on what you want your career to look like. Not only will it provide you with the direction and action plan needed to achieve your objective, it will also be the motivation you need for the “down” days and will help you make career decisions more confidently.
I’d love to hear your stories of how you gained clarity about your career path and if it is helpful you can get access to a free download “Take stock of your work life” which will provide you with a kick start.