Develop a Career Compass: Four Steps to Getting to your Professional Destination

You’ve probably heard someone say, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” I’m saying it again, as this message rings true when it comes to career planning.

Think of it this way: You’re driving down the road. You really don’t know your destination, and you don’t have a map or GPS. Don’t be surprised if you end up going in circles. You might as well be going nowhere.

Do you feel this way with your career — like you’re driving in circles? Or spinning your wheels? Perhaps, you’re in an industry or workplace that just doesn’t suit you (nor do you suit it).

Get back on track (it’s YOUR career, after all) by developing a long-term strategy.

Here are the steps to charting a successful career path:

1. Establish your purpose. What’s your unique skill? Natural talents? Personality? Goals? Being intentional about defining your preferences for work role, organization type, culture fit, and life balance will set parameters for you to thrive within and minimize the influence of extraneous circumstances. For example, you might have a degree in accounting, but be uncertain if you’re suited for public accounting or corporate accounting or consulting. Or, if you’re studying healthcare administration, you might not know if you’re drawn to operations or strategy, or see a niche in a rural hospital setting, a physician group, or urban academic medical center. Get to know your strengths and aspirations, align them with a vision, short and long term goals, and measure your progress periodically.

2. Plug in. Immerse yourself in the field. Join a few professional associations that relate to your industry and continue to refine your understanding of the field while establishing a network of peers and colleagues that deepen your engagement and fuel strong professional performance. I’ve noted before that active involvement in professional associations is a powerful career asset.

3. Have a co-pilot. In this realm, these are mentors, role models, or “accountability partners” who can provide honest feedback about your performance, guidance to navigate growth, encouragement when obstacles arise and hold your feet to the fire so you can progress and evolve. Pull together a “team” of supporters, or board of advisors, who each bring different perspectives and ways to support and guide you.

4. Bounce back … stronger than before. It’s not a fairy tale. You may have to kiss some frogs before you snag that prince(ss) charming. I know of no one (present company included) who has just breezed through life, not facing any ugly turns, unexpected delays and career detours. But these rough patches weren’t career-enders. If anything, in the end, they can result in career-accelerating developments. As you encounter these hoops and roadblocks, see them as transition stages. Do more than survive ‘em. Get back on track. With a well-defined purpose and self-assuredness (as outlined in step #1), you can not only clear the obstacles but turn them around in your favor – as a launching pad for bigger and better things.

With a road map, you’re sure to reach your destination.

What are you doing now – the little steps – that are getting you closer to you goals?

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