Making (or breaking) Sustainable Career Decisions

The time has come for us all to forget about career management. To call your shots and make your mark in the real world of work, you need to instead think about career ownership. 

As a career owner, you are the CEO of your career* – Me Inc.  So that you can enjoy the benefits of your new role, first you need to take care of your most important responsibility as CEO of Me Inc.: to make sound and sustainable decisions.  Doing so will enable you to be in control and in the seat of power of your work-life.

As the one responsible for orchestrating the decision-making process you need to be able to have a big picture view and to think long-term. For that you’ll need to set time aside to answer the following 4 questions about yourself and your work-life:

  • Where are you right now?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • Why do you want to get there?
  • How will you get there?

Here are some tips to get you started:

Element #1: Where are you right now?

Similar to the process that an entrepreneur undergoes when analysing a business, you’ll need to take stock of your key assets.  Working together, these are the things that turn you on and keep your engine running.

In the context of your career, these are:

  • your personality style – or the way you do the things that you do;
  • your values – or what rewards matter most to you;
  • your skills – what you’re good at;
  • your strengths – what you’re better at than most; and
  • your interests – what you’re drawn to.

Personally I have found it very powerful to have a one-page snap-shot of my key assets (the top 5 of each of the traits above) that I can refer to whenever I need to make a decision.  In essence this snap-shot of Me Inc. is the foundation of my decisions and I’ve used it to answer the remaining 3 questions that you’ll find on this post.

To develop a snap-shot, I’ve relied on a number of assessments, some have been free and others have charged me a fee. I’ll share these with you – and my reviews – in a future post.  A career counsellor or a coach may also be a good starting point for you.  If you decide to go that way, I suggest that you interview a few before you decide to work with one.  I’ve found that personal chemistry and that they ‘get me’ are both more important than the number of degrees on their wall.

It’s also key to be able to look at the results of several assessments.  After all we’re all unique and very complex so there’s no way that one test will give us a well-rounded view of ourselves. 

Element #2: Where do you want to go?

This will involve some creativity and dreaming on your part. And the fact is that there is no hard and fast way of figuring this out. The great news is that there aren’t any right or wrong answers either.  In a nut-shell, this is a very personal question that involves some introspection.

However you choose to answer the question: “where do you want to go?” I strongly suggest that you dedicate time to figure it out. This is THE question that will lead you to really and truly own your career.

These are the models that I’ve used to answer THE question: (feel free to use these too!)

A 5-year plan

Rather than trying to figure out what I’m doing for the rest of my life, for the past decade, I’ve been basing my decisions on a 5-year plan.  I’ve found that this model gives me enough structure to get me where I want to while giving me the flexibility that I need in order to make changes along the way. When setting goals, I make sure that they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.

A vision and mission statement

This has taken me some time to develop, but I guarantee that it has been worth my while. In fact, in front of my desk where I write, I have posted my vision and mission so that I can look at it every day.  To develop both statements, what helped me the most was picturing that I did not have a financial need to work. Then I thought (long and hard) about what I would do every day – after I got bored of sitting around doing nothing. When I did this exercise in 2007, I decided to become a full time writer. And that is exactly what I’ve been since Feb 2008.

My life’s calling

I recently learned about this model and I’ve found it quite useful and inspiring. (Thanks Jack Canfield!). Here are the questions that I used to find my calling – at least for the next 5 years:

1. List two of your unique personal qualities. 

2. List one or two ways that you enjoy expressing those qualities when interacting with others. 

3.  Assume the world is perfect right now. What does this world look like? How is everyone interacting with everyone else? What does it feel like? Make sure that you write your answer in the present tense, describing the ideal condition, the perfect world as you see it and feel it.

4. Combine your answers to the above three questions into a single statement.

Element #3: Why do you want to get there?

Once you know where you want to go, you’ll be more likely to survive the tough times along the way if you attach meaning to your goals.

To help you find out “why” below are the three questions that I use: (from The Alignment Group: – thanks Erica!)

  1. Why is achieving my goal important for me?
  2. What’s in it for me when I achieve my goal?
  3. Who else will benefit when I reach this goal?

Element #4: How will you get there?

This is the equivalent of developing a business plan for your career.  Having SMART goals is a great start, but to make things happen, you need to be able to…execute.  For that, you need to develop a strategic career plan.

This is what my plan includes – I suggest that at a minimum, you include these in yours:

  1. A time-line: This is where you break down your long-term goals (the SMART ones that you set in Element # 2) into bite-size pieces.  In other words, figure out what needs to happen in the short and medium term so that you achieve your goals.
  2. Resource requirements: What will you need along the way to get to  your long-term goals, in terms of time, commitment, money, education, skills and jobs?  At this point, being as specific as possible will help you be more prepared.
  3. Obstacles: As Henry Ford said: “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”  With that in mind, take time to think about what might get in the way of your goals. Find solutions and prepare for the hurdles.
  4. Description: I like to close my eyes for this.  Write a narrative, with as much detail as possible, about what it will feel like, how you will react to obstacles and what you will gain from each step. The more real your description, the better equipped you’ll be.  Make sure that you take time to enjoy your journey in your mind’s eye.
  5. A schedule: The time has come for the rubber to meet the road.  Set deadlines for your goals and schedule them in your PDA, calendar or whatever other tool you use to manage your time.
  6. Evaluation: From time to time, review your goals to make sure that they are still important for you, that you’re still on track and to make any changes that you feel are needed. 

Remember, this is your journey, not mine, not your boss’ and certainly not your parents’.

Until you’re able to answer these questions for your work-life you’ll be dragged by other’s dreams and visions. In other words, you’ll be wasting your life helping other people achieve their dream and visions. And a wasted life is the greatest, yet most preventable tragedy in the 21st century.

What do you think?

*the terms career and work-life have been used interchangeably throughout this post and my blog.


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