Finding success in your career can feel like searching for a golden ticket. It is easy to forget that your career is a journey that takes about forty years. Imagine your career as one long road trip. There are some stops, probably a few different legs, and, ultimately, a destination. Figuring out where you want to go is the first step in success. Smaller decisions like which vehicle you take on your road trip change how quickly you reach your destination.
One way to help define success in your career is to evaluate what you enjoy doing and reflect on what you are good at doing. Because you are the captain of your road trip, you decide your destination and what your goals are. All journeys experience detours and setbacks, and figuring out how to get back on the path to success is just as important as defining what that success is.
Sometimes, figuring out where you want to go is not the first step in defining success. If you are not sure what career path you want (or destination in our analogy), try making a list of the places you do not want to go or routes you do not want to take.
Perhaps you know you do not want to work nights and weekends. Maybe you want to avoid sales or cold calling. For some, relocating is not an option. Eliminating possibilities can help you determine what you want to do for your profession.
Writing down what you don't want drives decision making like core values. An option either aligns with it or not. This will also help you avoid shiny objects or distractions that keep you from reaching your career goals.
Doing this with physical pencil and paper is a powerful tool that helps your brain process information and make decisions. You may be surprised to find how much clarity this brings in showing which path you should take. If you think this pointless, we recommend reading the book INLFUENCE to find that the act of writing something down is perhaps the most effective means of affecting human behavior.
Once you know what you do not want to do, you can begin thinking about what you do want to do and where you would like to go in your career. Keep in mind that everyone’s goals are different. Success, as it is traditionally defined, may not be the right destination for you. Instead of the corner office as the final goal, success for your career might be achieving work/life balance.
The answer will come as a whisper, so you must listen closely.
Is your final goal making a certain amount of money by a set age? If you know from the previous exercise that you don't want to deal with numbers all day, then something like an options trader or media buyer are off the table.
Perhaps you would like to reach a certain position at a public company, like CEO. You're unlikely to do that unless you've worked at the company for many years. So not you've got some direction.
Determining your destination is as easy as figuring out where you feel fulfilled while meeting your financial goals.
If reaching your desired role requires additional education, that is perfectly fine, until you're in your mid 30's. You need to have direction for yourself by then that can be achieved without a large time reinvestment. You need to spend your 20's determining what you want to do and spend your 30s doing it. If you're reading this in your mid 30's, make a decision about something you are going to do and focus on it.
If you are not sure where you want to go, try reaching out to people in roles that sound attractive to you. Building relationships with mentors and networking with people who are doing what you want to be doing are great ways to help you figure out where you want to be. We've met too many attorneys that didn't know what they were getting into until they pass the bar and got to work. Only to learn that they hate it and the role wasn't what they were expecting. Avoid this.
Setting your goals is like setting your destination on your road trip of a career. When you look back, will you be content with where your career took you? You might have a few big goals or destinations to reach, and that is absolutely respectable. Keep in mind that broader goals are easier to meet. More specific goals allow for unwavering focus.
Whatever your destination, pursuing your dreams with hard work and tenacious determination are just as important as intelligence. If you work towards your goal efficiently and effectively, you will be able to meet it. But without defining it, you will have no idea where you're headed. The book GRIT talks about the ability to continue on a path for long periods of time as perhaps the most characteristic to success.
Do not be overwhelmed as you figure out your goals or your destinations. As you decide how to get from where you are now to where you want to be, try breaking down the big goals into smaller, more manageable parts. In the road trip analogy, this would be like figuring out legs of a journey and finding lodging at each leg.
The book Perfectly Confident talks about how important and game changing it can be to focus on the smaller day to day tasks rather than the overall goal. Set the goal (commercial real estate broker), reverse engineer what it takes to achieve (50 cold calls per day), then focus on cold calls, not the end goal. Focusing on the small tasks mentally will improve the work you do on a day to day.
Some goals can be broken into many pieces while others can only be broken down into a few. How many pieces your career can be broken down into is something only you can determine.
An example might be to set the goal of reaching management within two years. Then, determining that you need to focus on production, leadership, customer service, certifications or licensing needed to reach that goal would be like determining which routes to take to get there.
Writing down steps to achieve your goals will help them seem possible and give you momentum to make them happen.
Sometimes, it is not possible to reach your goals at your current company or in your current position. When this happens, the best course of action is to figure out a way to change where you are. That can be a terrifying step to take. If you stay where you are, you may not reach your goals. The book Linchpin does an amazing job of explaining how to become unexpendable. Author Seth Godin believes that it is possible wherever you are.
Breaking down your big destination into smaller chunks should include a timeline. Do you want to get to your first stop in two years or in five? Where will you be in 20 years? Keep in mind that this timeline is a loose guideline instead of a strict itinerary. Sometimes, we take detours or are blessed with a scenic route.
This is the reason sales leaders set quarterly quotas. The strict timeframes are proven to impact performance as there is accountability to get this done within a certain timeframe. If you have trouble actually holding yourself accountable, use the company stickk.com and bet yourself $50 that you will actually accomplish something.
Moving from one position to another can take longer than expected. Interruptions from your personal life might demand attention, and these may change your plans (like having a child). The beautiful part of this being your plan is that if you need to, you can change it. Changing your plans to reflect what is happening now instead of what you wish was happening may help give you some momentum as you begin to mark small goals off your to-do list.
There are big life goals and benchmarks to get there. The ability to adjust your big life goals based on life events or decisions is a great reason to establish benchmarks annually. Again the book GRIT has more information about the importance of specific goals. The author talks all about how setting these goals properly will get to the heart of your motivation.
There are a few ways to define and record goals. You may be familiar with S.M.A.R.T. goals that have proliferated business literature for the past several years. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Clarifying your career goals within the S.M.A.R.T. framework can help you define specifically what you want, how you will measure it, and when you hope to achieve it. Having a plan can help give you the momentum needed to make the impossible possible. The book Traction is completely dedicated to the idea that this is the only way to succeed in getting a business to the next level. Step by Step guides are included in it too.
Defining your career goals in the S.M.A.R.T. framework is a good idea for most goals, but sometimes this framework does not capture intangibles. It can also lead you to feel that not reaching a goal within the timeframe is a failure. In reality, the biggest failure is never setting a goal at all. Understanding the limitations of a S.M.A.R.T. goal is important when considering how to record your goals on that sheet of paper. Do not be afraid to write down a goal even though it is not definable as a S.M.A.R.T. goal.
If you have too many places to go and you are having difficulty narrowing down your big goal(s) or your destination(s), try focusing only on what you are good at or enjoy doing. Consider performing a S.W.O.T. analysis -- looking at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. When making business plans, all companies routinely evaluate these four sectors to determine which products or services to focus on and which to drop. Generally, strengths and weaknesses highlight internal characteristics while opportunities and threats are focused on the environment.
Try doing one on yourself! Here are some examples of what may fall into each of the categories:
Strengths could be your skills and experiences. Think about all the things you are able to do, and write them down. Even if they seem unrelated, recording what you enjoy doing can help lend clarity as you figure out your destination. Anything that you contribute to helping you reach that goal can be written in this column.
Weaknesses are the things you would rather not do. Looking at what you are not good at can be disheartening, but having a list of tasks you do not enjoy will help you find the career that will meet your goals while being enjoyable. In this column, include any negative personal traits or skills that you lack. Again, this can be depressing, but can help show you where you focus needs to be.
Opportunities are the positive aspects of your environment. For example, if you live in an area with a great deal of medical services available, you may be able to channel your strengths and energy to the medical services industry to help meet your career goals. As workplaces grow more comfortable with employees working remotely, the environment is larger than ever.
Threats are the negative aspects of your environment. If you are in an area with a surplus of professionals skilled in your area of expertise, you could include that in the “threats” column.
A S.W.O.T. analysis of yourself can help you balance what you enjoy doing with your environment to determine the best way for you to meet your career goals. Not only is this a great way to visualize where your skills are right now, but it can also help you figure out what you need to work on in the future. The ultimate book about how to teach yourself something fast is written by a chess champion: The Art of Learning.
For example, you may have public speaking in your weaknesses column. Because public speaking can be improved through training and practice, you need to determine whether or not to invest resources to improve this weakness. After some practice and training, maybe you would be able to move public speaking from the weaknesses column to the strengths column.
As you examine your findings, you will need to separate traits from skills. Traits are inherent and unchangeable -- someone who works best with structure and routine will never thrive in an unpredictable workplace. A skill like public speaking can be improved and moved from the weakness column to the strength column. Recognizing the difference between these two abilities will be able to help you formulate an achievable career goal. A test like enneagram will help you learn about yourself
As humans, we are always looking for the next chapter or the next stop. It is very easy to define success by how quickly we reach each stop. It is important to manage your expectations, be realistic, and remember what Gary Keller wrote in his amazing book The ONE Thing: Success Is Sequential.
You MUST CHOOSE a direction. You cannot float through life without a focus and achieve anything. A Chef must decide that his/her life’s work will be cooking. They can’t dabble in it and several other things and succeed. We all must do the same.
In the road trip example, picking a career path is like picking your vehicle. Are you walking to your destination to arrive in many years after enjoying some beautiful scenery, or are you in a jet plane to get there as quickly as possible? Maybe the right choice for you is a combination of speeds. Keeping your timeline in mind will help you feel fulfilled as you go from one stop to the next. It will also help you avoid frustration and keep you from giving up.
No road trip is solely focused on the destination -- it is about the journey you take to get there. As you develop goals to define success in your career, make sure to include some small, everyday goals. While smaller goals like “make someone smile every day” or “reach 200 widgets audited this week” can seem insignificant, they can help provide some momentum to help you achieve bigger goals.
If you feel that success is finishing each day fulfilled, having some daily goals are important parts of making that happen. As you move closer to reaching your big goals, completing smaller goals will help provide some color and texture to your journey. It may sound odd to suggest a sales book at this point, but The Ultimate Sales Machine was written by Chet Holmes, an absolute goal achieving machine with a single direction. He tells you how to achieve anything you want.
Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” Every journey experiences some detours, and your career is no exception. Even the best-laid plans can be ruined if they do not account for failures and dead-ends. As you work on defining success in your career, make sure to include a section for the inevitable setbacks. While frustrating, detours give the opportunity for growth and can give you new perspectives on your goals.