First, a story.
After speaking at a conference about research I did on career planning, I was dumbfounded by how many attendees sought me out afterwards and shared their confusion and frustration about why they felt they had ineffective career plans. All were worried that they had blown it. One was a Harvard MBA, another a senior-level executive who felt “stuck,” and last was a very imaginable scenario in between.
The crushing blow of not fulfilling one’s career aspirations is saddening. It fills the individual with self-doubt and low self-esteem. This does not have to be the case. Here are some easy-to-do actions from my research.
• Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
An intelligent career plan begins with an in-depth objective, as well as subjective assessment of your passions, talents, the things that you do not have the abilities to excel at, and the opportunities and restrictions that your personal situation presents. For example, if you cannot stand not having the approval of others, or being disliked, you will never find fulfillment in a supervisory or management job. These roles require comfort with conflict and making unpopular decisions. Perhaps you want to be a hugely successful real estate sales representative yet have family obligations or a lifestyle that will create stress and tension as you struggle with the work life balance that comes with this profession. Having gone through such a deep introspective process you can develop a career plan that will be realistic and fulfilling.
• Create a Feedback Rich Environment
Job holders tend to refrain from seeking out feedback while career builders are constantly hungry for it. We all have blind spots that if left unilluminated will eventually jeopardize the fulfillment of our occupational goals. The math whiz who ignores feedback on his “saturated with smarts” demeanor, will miss the chance to balance his gift with the empathy, collaboration, and cooperation needed to succeed in the present business environment. His inability to play nicely in the corporate sandbox will crush his career ascent. One of the best things you can do in your career planning strategy is to create a feedback rich environment. Becoming comfortable hearing about your blind spots from your boss, co-workers and colleagues costs you nothing and can have a huge payback.
• Avoid the “Cocoon Trap”
In just 9-14 days, caterpillars break out of their cocoons and turn into butterflies. Then they fly away.
With time, most people build a work cocoon at their employer, especially if they like it there. As the years go by, they become increasingly comfortable, cozy, and most importantly, develop feelings of being safe. It becomes easy to live with the status quo versus taking a test flight out of their cocoons.
Unless you are in the “twilight years” of your career, intentionally fly out of your cocoon as you progress towards realizing your career ambitions. Explore your marketability and find out what other organizations would be willing to pay for your talents. You have nothing to lose and potentially quite a bit to be gained.
Realizing your career ambitions requires a thoughtful plan, a willingness to assess and build your capabilities, and the insight to periodically break out of your cocoon. Yes, at times luck plays a role. But who would want to leave something as important as one’s career satisfaction to that!