Many times we rely on intentions that don’t get us anywhere. There is something in many of us that makes us think we can skip goal setting and just get straight to execution when we want to accomplish something big. Too often our intentions are greater than our actions. Our ideas stay in our head or become the focus of some heavy conversations, but not much more happens. Three years later we may find ourselves still thinking or talking about the same ideas without any evidence of an attempt to make them tangible.
Sometimes it might be fear holding us back, or sometimes just plain laziness. Whatever the reason for not sitting down and plotting out our actions, the result is the same: nothing happens. I’m not sure that analyzing the cause takes us much closer to taking action, but analyzing the results should.
A common response to many tough projects is to try to save time by diving in the middle of it without thinking through steps or timelines. This may produce more than not taking any action at all, but it can also lead to wasted time and disappointment. Have you ever received a package of “easy-to-assemble” furniture? Did you start off by putting pieces together, only to find out that they don’t fit right? Did you then go back and read the instructions, only to learn you had put the pieces together backwards? Imagine how much easier it would have been and how much time would have been saved if you had just followed the directions.
A really big goal can be overwhelming. So much so, you may end up doing absolutely nothing. If you take your big goal and establish a very realistic time frame for accomplishing it, the first burden is now off your shoulders. The next step is to determine exactly what each action step is, from start to finish. This part of the process may seem tedious, but it is really the most critical. By listing each and every thing that has to be done, the reality of each step is visible and also much more doable. You can plan timelines much more accurately and track your progress to make sure your target dates for hitting key milestones are closer to reality.
A really big goal can be overwhelming
Goal setting is not really a complicated process. Making a change of any type includes a specific goal, and the process is roughly the same: take stock of where you are and compare that to your goal, assess your own behaviors, influencers and resources, determine where you want to be and set a goal. Then write the recipe (action steps) for getting there.
Let’s use weight loss as an example because the concept is simpler for many people to grasp than trying to imagine an as-of-yet undefined goal to make a career change. Needing to lose 50 pounds can be completely overwhelming when you focus on the total loss required. Losing one pound a week is a much easier objective to see and imagine, and a plan to accomplish that is much more doable. The process required to accomplish the weekly one-pound weight loss is far more sustainable than trying to imagine which new diet you can rely on to lose 50 pounds quickly. The following simple example illustrates how much easier things can be when they are thought out in advance and when simple step-by-step actions are defined.
- Record and examine your current status. Evaluating exactly what you are doing and where you are is a fundamental point for getting started. On one hand, tracking exactly what you eat each day for two weeks will tell you what you are currently doing. On the other, you will need to record your current physical activities each week (or lack thereof). It’s important to analyze your habits and record the actual number of calories you take in and the number of calories you burn to show you what you are currently doing to sustain your current weight.
- Evaluate potential changes. On your own or with a doctor or nutritionist, you can examine what can change; e.g., trading a handful of potato chips for a couple of carrot sticks to decrease calories. At the same time, on your own or with a personal trainer, you can examine your activities and determine what you can add to increase your calories burned. Making minor changes and plotting out exactly what you expect to do as an activity each week is much more likely to make the process doable and successful. Making small changes over a period of time helps you build new habits.
- Develop your plan. Outline what foods you will start incorporating into your diet. Schedule your activities. Set yourself up to succeed by making sure your activities are added to your calendar so you can be aware of how they fit with your work schedule and family time.
- Get started. The time to begin is when you can see exactly what you need to do, one day at a time. Record your results and recognize when your choices work and don’t work.
Instead of delaying your weight loss because it seems overwhelming or setting an unrealistic goal of achieving a 50-pound weight loss in three weeks, get started with a plan that allows you to sustain small changes that you develop into habits. Instead of eating only alfalfa sprouts and water and working out every day for four hours to lose 50 pounds in three weeks, you will have designed an actionable plan with a more realistic timeline that will allow you to lose 50 pounds over the course of a year. The change will be gradual and much easier than committing to something extreme. Your weight is much more likely to remain where you want it.
Whether you want to change your health or your career, enlisting the help of a professional is going to make the process smoother, and you will have support when your plan seems too hard to carry out. In order to make a career change, the same process has to be followed: record and examine your status, evaluate potential changes, develop a plan for making a desired change and get started. Looking at job postings expecting to find the perfect job to save you from your current plight is no different than expecting to find a magic pill to lose 50 pounds.
If you have cultivated the belief that only the “lucky” people get the best jobs, please consider how much power you have given up and the amount of time you have wasted by believing that getting a good job is out of your control. I’m not disputing the fact that it may be more of a case of who you know than what you know, but believing that all you need is that “big break” is missing the mark. Even the best opportunities can result in a big goose egg if the people pursuing them take their relationships for granted or assume that an introduction is all that is needed.
Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not substitute for your being able to articulate your value…
There is considerable work to be done, even when you do know the right people. It is still critical to make sure you show up as the most qualified, likely to fit with the team, excited and invested candidate an organization considers, regardless of how you get there. Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not compensate for your being unable to articulate your value or live up to the hype that came before your meeting with the hiring team.
It is striking to me how many people still believe that all they need is “to get an interview,” with little thought of their need for preparation. The mindset that all a person needs is a fancy resume to get in front of someone and the rest of the interview process will be a wrap, sadly, still exists. To my frustration, I regularly receive after-hours emails with this request: “I have an interview tomorrow morning. Can you send me some tips?” This out-of-touch belief that getting in front of a hiring manager and ad-libbing your way through the interview process will work is as outdated as dial phones and decidedly less effective.
Maybe this analogy would help: You have always dreamed of travelling by car across country to visit historical sites. It’s the first of July and you’ve suddenly been granted three weeks of paid time off beginning the following week. Would you wait until after you start your 6,000-mile road trip to check your tires and oil, water and antifreeze levels? Would you leave without a map or a plan of what you want to see?
This may sound foolish, but not more so than accepting a referral to the hiring manager for your targeted position at your organization of choice without having prepared for the impending conversation. Regardless of how many praises were sung on your behalf, you will still be required to relate your knowledge of the organization and its mission, illustrate your value using examples of your relatable experience and explain why you left your last job or why you are changing industries/roles/directions, if that is the case. Conversations about all of these points require thoughtful preparation and are unlikely to be handled successfully if you’ve waited until the night before to think about them.
It could be your dream job, which you exactly match, leveraged by a referral from your best friend who is the brother/sister/cousin of the hiring manager — and all of this could become moot in minutes if you show up ill prepared. In addition to blowing the opportunity, you run the risk of harming the reputation of the person who referred you and burning a bridge with someone who may be very important to you. If you are wondering who would do that, I’m here to tell you that I see it every week and can only shake my head in disbelief. To avoid experiencing a less than favorable outcome, make sure you do the most you can to research, prepare and practice in advance of asking for a referral of any kind. Make sure you are ready to shine and are representing your contact well. Showing up as the “perfect fit” for the opportunity in question is a win-win for everyone.
We probably all begin a new year with good intentions. Many people make resolutions to lose weight, improve their eating habits or get a new job, to name a few. If these sound like familiar promises you’ve made and ultimately fell short on, then it’s probably a good idea to evaluate what happened. Now is a good time to review your past year and figure out where things went sideways.
First, look back and take stock of what you did accomplish that you are proud of and happy about. What contributed to your success? Can you replicate your approach? How much of what went right can be applied to what didn’t?
On the flip side, did you fall short of accomplishing what you had hoped to accomplish? Were there events that impacted your performance or your well-being? How well did you handle them? What could you do differently if faced with similar challenges?
Start this next year with more than your good intentions.
You might be wistfully remembering how well you did in January and February, but by March, you were already starting to slip. Even with the best intentions, the resolutions you made in December were probably in your head and not recorded in your calendar. In other words, without an action plan and commitments for completing specific tasks by specific dates, you were pretty much doomed from the get-go. Now is the time to take the bull by the horns and pull a plan together to start this next year with more than your good intentions.
If there is something that has continued to show up on your “to do” list, then stop talking about it and get out your calendar. Make a commitment for getting it done, come hell or high water. Even if life events sway you, there’s a very simple strategy for not losing track of what you want to get done. Having clearly defined goals, and planned dates for accomplishing specific tasks and objectives, you will be forced to reconsider taking off for happy hour or adding some other inconsequential task into an already full day. If something happens that requires your immediate attention and you fail to complete the scheduled task, then you can simply reschedule it instead of leaving it on a revolving “to do” list or forgetting about it altogether. What we’re really talking about is accountability.
Going forward, plan around already-known events and block time in your calendar. Anything you plan can be changed to a new time if there is a true emergency that arises. Unplanned actions remain happenstance and are far less likely to get accomplished. Also include time to evaluate your progress each week. If you have trouble staying on track, find an accountability buddy who will hold your feet to the fire. Do what it takes to own your actions and remain accountable for your results (or lack thereof). Track your accomplishments and challenges to help you improve your productivity as you move forward. Most importantly, make this process a habit that you don’t deviate from. Make the new year your best year so far.
Everyone has dreams. Have you wished for an increase in pay or a better workplace? Dreamed of travelling to foreign lands? Aching to buy a house or build a treehouse? Without thoughtful consideration about what it will take, it’s unlikely that your dreams will come true, short of stumbling across a genie in a magic bottle … a pretty unlikely scenario.
It’s probably safe to say that people who establish goals and action plans for achieving their dreams are far more likely to realize them than those who don’t. So why then do so many people believe that all they really need is a lucky break? With some effort and longer-term planning, there is more within your own power to help you get where you want to go than you may think. SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and trackable) goals can provide the structure you need to move forward.
Ask yourself: “what’s stopping me?”
Give your dream an examination. Ask yourself: “what’s stopping me?” Consider every detail of what it would take from inception through to realization. Using a treehouse as an example, think of exactly what it would take from start to finish.
Be specific about each and every aspect. If you haven’t picked the tree, then include what the tree needs to look like and where it needs to be located. Imagine what it will look like as you climb in it and what you will do in it. Find photos that will help you visualize exactly what you want to see. Getting clarity about what you want before you take action is critical.
List every single detail that is required, such as researching ideas, locating materials, drawing construction plans and the actual construction itself. When you have included every single step in your list, it’s time to create a schedule for completing each phase. Then pull out the calendar and put your money where your mouth is. Commit to the days and times you will complete each and every task. Unless you are clear about when and how each task will get done, you are only dreaming that things will happen as you hope they will.
You may be wondering how building a treehouse relates to capturing a better job or starting a business. It’s pretty simple. Although the outcome may be different, the process is the same. From your first thought or idea to your end result, each step can be listed and planned out, with benchmarks set for completing each.
Your desired outcomes are more likely to be achieved if you establish goals and set timelines for achieving them. Identifying the kind of work or work environments that make you happy, determining what is financially possible and developing a strategy for obtaining what you want are all key components in changing career paths.
If you need help visualizing a specific outcome, seeing the broader picture beyond your current circumstances or understanding the market, then it may be time for you to call in a professional to help you. Just as an architect or designer can help with your dream house, a career coach can help you visualize a new role and develop a career plan. If you have previously made random runs at new positions and not gotten the results you want, it should be getting clearer. Throwing spaghetti at the wall rarely works.
Many people dread their annual performance reviews. The anxiety created by worrying about what will happen is an unnecessary distraction brought on by procrastination. If you have been working for more than a few years, you’ve probably had a few performance evaluations. Why wait to see what happens?
The following strategy can help you take the bite out of any unexpected news evolving out of a performance conversation or add a welcomed lift by highlighting accomplishments that may have been overlooked.
Establish clear goals before the beginning of each New Year or fiscal year. Know what you want to accomplish early on, so you can make the time to accomplish your personal and professional goals. If you aren’t sure what you want or where you are going, then you set yourself up for failure. It’s too easy to be buried by unfinished work requests and unable to reach your personal goals because you have no time left. Get focused and plan ahead.
Don’t wait until the day or week before your performance review to prepare.
Prepare early. Don’t wait until the day or week before your performance review to prepare. Be aware of your goals from the beginning of the review period. Know what is expected of you and stay aware of where you stand. Don’t know what is expected of you? Then ask!
Keep a journal or a log. Record what’s on your mind each day. Document your wins. Stay aware of your challenges. Be specific. Make sure this is not information stored on a company computer. It needs to stay within your possession. You just never know when a layoff occurs and you find yourself being escorted out.
Update your resume and Linked In profile. Don’t rely on your supervisor to record your successes. It’s considerably easier to document accomplishments as they happen then wait until you’ve been riffed, terminated or considered for a promotion. It’s much easier to have the data ready then try to think about what should be on your resume when you start job hunting. Take the time to track your accomplishments as you go. Updating your Linked In profile as things happen will make it a far less suspicious act than saving it and updating it only because you are ready to find a new job.
Be aware of your shortcomings. Know what behaviors/skills are is not up to snuff and be prepared to discuss your plan for addressing them. The fallout from mistakes can be considerably reduced if you take a proactive approach. Waiting until you’ve been caught to explain a mistake may take more time to fix it and could fuel a more adverse reaction from your supervisor than is warranted.
Confirm the date of the review as early as possible. There’s no need to wait until your supervisor brings it up. If you know annual reviews are required by the end of the year, bring up scheduling closer to Thanksgiving. Look ahead for reasonable times in December to accomplish your review so it isn’t a rushed affair. If your review is March every year, then start talking about it towards the end of January. It continues to amaze me when my clients tell me their supervisor scheduled their performance evaluation with less than a week’s notice, when it is has been an ongoing annual event for a number of years.
Be prepared to negotiate. If compensation is considered in conjunction with your performance review, make sure you are making a reasonable request. You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. If the company is having challenges, then it might be easier to ask and receive extra time off in lieu of higher compensation. Stay focused on what the company needs so you can base your requests on things that are MOST likely to be agreed to.
The key is to assume ownership of this sometimes very painful event. Work it to your advantage. With clearly defined goals of your own, and front end planning, you will be much more able to accomplish the goals your supervisor sets for you. You can look forward to ending the performance period on a high note by taking the bull by the horns early on.
If you’ve been unclear about what effective networking looks like, it might be time to assess your expectations and your approach. Random networking produces random results. Imagine what networking with the right people in the right way can do for you. Figuring out what “right” means requires thought and preparation. Approaching networking with a strategy for getting what you need and allowing yourself time for preparation will ensure you get better results from your efforts. Having a strategy behind your actions will also help you stay focused when opportunities seem unclear.
Without a goal or focus, it’s very likely you will miss relevant, pertinent or valuable information when communicating with people in your network.
Start with a goal in mind. Without a goal or focus, it’s very likely you will miss relevant, pertinent or valuable information when communicating with people in your network. Your goal will help you determine what you need to learn or gain from others. (If you think you have nothing to learn, then there’s a problem brewing before you begin.) If you only vaguely or generally know there are things you need to learn, then it’s important to take the time to get more specific and make a list of what you need.
Review your needs and compare them to your expectations. What do you need? Who is likely to be able to help? How will you meet/communicate with those people? Are you working with assumptions or are you clear about which people are realistically going to be able to help you with what you need? How soon do you need information or actions?
Prepare what you will say/ask. Many people believe that attending events with lots of people will automatically produce some sort of imagined outcome. You may think if you just attend enough events, you will miraculously run into someone who will immediately see/hear your value (through a spontaneous conversation) and offer you a job or refer droves of customers to you. That’s assuming, of course, that the people you run into are mind readers or care enough about you and not what is already foremost on their minds. Your strategy needs to take into account who you would be most likely to run into at any given event. It also needs to consider what might be of interest to them at that event. Once you have considered your audience, then you can prepare a short statement that allows you to introduce yourself (not a 5-minute dissertation) and enough questions to help steer the conversation in the right direction.
Be prepared to follow up. People often make lots of promises in the excitement or heat of the moment when meeting new people. They may be sincere about wanting to help, but their own issues may move those thoughts to the back of their minds, and all action stops. If someone has promised to provide you with information, then it is your responsibility to let them know you will follow up with them. Agree on what the action is and the date you will check back. A ‘thank you’ email that confirms what they offered and the check back date you discussed should be sent within one day. Waiting weeks for someone to come through wastes time and puts you in an awkward position. Agreeing to what has been promised and also managing the process makes it easy for the person to follow through.
Manage your time well. I don’t know anyone who likes having their time wasted. Thinking ahead and determining who to ask, what you need and when you need it is all part of strategy. Asking people for immediate help (when it is not an emergency) because you just got around to it isn’t likely to produce positive results. Plan ahead to get what you need, and allow ample time to account for miscommunications or introductions to third parties. Don’t expect others to turn themselves inside out to help you. Make it easy for them by providing enough information and time to allow them to do what they need to do. Waiting until the last minute (e.g., the day before an interview or the response to an RFP is due) is likely to lead to a lot of running around with no results. In the same vein, planning ahead to know who you want to speak with or what you want to learn while staying aware of time constraints for in-person events will help you get more out of your investment. Attending an event with no prior thought and no plan can still end up being a fun experience but perhaps not as productive as you need it to be.
Stay in touch. Being connected to people through a social or professional network is only as useful as you make it. It’s important to plan times to communicate with others and stay aware of their circumstances. Reaching out to others only when you need something is really bad form. Everyone is busy, and we all can feel like there isn’t enough time. Make the time to nurture your network and you are much more likely to get what you need when you need it.
Building a solid and useful network requires thought, time and effort. Contrary to what many people think, networking can be more than “the luck of the draw” or “happenstance.” You have plenty of ways to control how your network grows and what it can produce if you are willing to develop a strategy for accomplishing what you want.
It’s not uncommon for job seekers and salespeople to be waiting for the “perfect” opportunity before they take any action. The problem with waiting for “perfect” is that it may never come. In the meantime, opportunities that might not be as big or “perfect” but in their own right could lead to something pretty darn close are often passed by. Imagine the surfer who sits on their board all day long and never rides a wave. They might be on the lookout for the “perfect” wave, but if they haven’t practiced with some not-so-great waves in advance, they probably risk wiping out the minute a great wave turns up. Or they may be fixed on an image of what the perfect wave should look like and not realize it was coming until it had already passed. I’m not a surfer, and you may not be either, but I think you can imagine my point.
I’ve overheard conversations about work scenarios that quite clearly (to me) were rife with opportunity. For instance, in one case, someone was describing a technology migration in their department that wasn’t going well and didn’t seem to have a solution. The listener was also a technology professional with deep experience in system migrations but was not currently working. At the end of the description of the problem, the listener didn’t ask pertinent questions, such as, “what have you tried?” or “how do you expect to solve that?” Instead, they wrapped the conversation with “if you hear of any job openings, please let me know.”
sometimes people/companies can be faced with a problem they haven’t yet started to solve
If you are thinking “what’s wrong with that?” then I’ll spell it out for you. Very simply, sometimes people/companies can be faced with a problem they haven’t yet started to solve. Everyone might be talking about it, but it may take a while for everyone to agree on exactly what the problem is or what they want to do about it. You may have heard people complain about your office’s coffee service. It may have been going on for months, but no one has considered taking action. A savvy salesperson would hear that clue and ask questions to determine if their company offered the right products/equipment/service plan to solve the problems that were described. At that point, rather than say “let me know if your company decides to look at a new service,” they might say “I’ve heard of that happening. Our company provides x, y, z and we could help with that. Who can you introduce me to who would be in a position to discuss a potential solution to the problems you’ve described?”
So, when someone is describing a problem that you can help fix, it’s a fabulous opportunity to help lead them to a solution. The process for getting to the point where an agreement is made about how the service can be provided and what it may cost may take a while, but being part of that process keeps you in the loop. Taking action early when you hear the first clues can help secure your role in the solution. Waiting until someone decides a position must be created, funded, approved and posted to speak up can leave you as only one of hundreds who apply and are considered many months later.
Another misconception is that you have to wait until a position is posted and then your only contact can be a recruiter or HR. Typically, they will not know nearly as much about a role as someone already working in the department who may have told you something was in the works. If you can get more information from your contact in the early stages of a solution/position development process and an introduction to the decision maker, imagine how much further ahead of the game you will be than if you wait until the position is posted or the request for a proposal hits the streets. That doesn’t mean you can circumvent companies’ hiring or purchasing processes when they are established. Showing interest early can simply help you learn and leverage the inside scoop to ensure you are strongly considered and that you are able to respond to their processes in the most favorable way.
When you hear about opportunities that are undefined or sound like they are less than you want, it’s only a sign that more information is needed. If you assume there will be a better opportunity later or that the grass is greener elsewhere, make sure to test your assumptions. Waiting for the unicorn when a horse and saddle are right in front of you may leave you standing on the side of the road much longer than your bank account is able to bear.
Let’s face it – although as humans we are each unique, in the workplace, most of us are dispensable. Keeping up with what is current or relevant is difficult for people in all sectors, industries and roles. Technology changes every day, which leads to changes in demand and/or processes, and ultimately, impacts everyone in the workplace.
Change is tough for most people and tougher for some than others. Finding ways to work through it, and with it, will typically contribute to more fruitful results than choosing to buck the system, when you are faced with something new. Some changes end up being minor enough for you to simply catch on and carry on. In those cases, practicing the new step, different process or new tool will help make it familiar to you and perhaps make your work far easier in the long run.
Resisting change ultimately wastes time and energy.
Resisting change ultimately wastes time and energy. If you have seen the handwriting on the wall, it’s pragmatic to figure out your next move before you are faced with irreconcilable differences. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away and waiting only makes it more difficult to gain the inertia to make the right next move. Use the energy you still have to work on the steps you can take to move yourself in a new and perhaps even better direction.
If what you do as a function is no longer needed, then it is possible that the handwriting has been on the wall in neon letters for a long time. It’s time to take the reins back and determine what you will do about it. If you have planned ahead, then maybe retirement is a sound option. For many of us, retirement has stretched into a hazy notion of life that may occur far into the future. Financial setbacks, health issues and family crises can really change the course of things. If working for pay is still necessary, there are steps you can take that will help limit the anxiety of making a change or moving ahead. Blaming your age isn’t going to change your circumstances. Embrace who you are and what you can do today – let go of what used to be. The following tips can help you get ahead in the process.
Pay attention to what is needed. Read industry periodicals or the news. Stay on top of developments in your field and the skills that are in demand. If your skills aren’t current, training/education may be an option, or it may simply be time to see where else your skills apply. Talk to people who are doing what you think you want to do and test your assumptions.
Adjust your brand. If you’ve been known as the big man on campus but intend to scale down, then scale down your brand altogether. Adjust your image to suit the intended audience. It is not uncommon for people to move into a later-in -life career that is not as powerful as they once were. Staying with the old image can overshoot what it is you want to do. Hearing “you’re overqualified” may soothe your ego, but it isn’t going to help your pocket book if you are not offered the position you have interviewed for. You need to SOUND excited about whatever it is you will be contributing to and you need to LOOK like you are the best in class to do it. Make sure your references, friends and family are able, willing and ready to speak to the “new” brand when people inquire. If you are starting something new and have things to learn, then show how willing, able and ready you are to give it your all.
Adjust your approach. If you are downsizing, then lighten your resume. Soften your speech. Don’t overshoot what you want to do – match it. More does not automatically mean better; it can sound like “too expensive”. If only two years of experience is required, then 20 is overkill. Don’t include dated, irrelevant years. Talk about the things you want to do. If you really don’t want to manage, then don’t dwell on when you used to manage. Focus on the skills that are needed to do the job. Having more of something unrelated doesn’t make up for the lack of the basic skills that are required to do the job. Make sure you can do what they need and that you are ready.
Adjust your brain. Stepping back can mess with your head if you let it. Don’t compare yourself with what you used to do or to others that are in a different place in their lives. Embrace the direction you want to transition into whether it is moving up or moving toward retirement. If you are starting over and still want to rise to the top again, then get excited about it. The process won’t take another 20 years.
Don’t take shortcuts. Throwing resumes at jobsites rarely works for people that are transitioning into new careers or different directions. Job posts typically are written with a “check-the-box” intent. Trying to match specific experience/skills can leave you trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Talk to people. Ask questions. Find out what is needed and act sincere about your interest. Working from the inside of the company with known advocates will increase your chances of someone learning just what a great fit you can be – even if all their boxes aren’t checked.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Make the most of your contacts and conversations. Just because the information you are getting isn’t providing you with “the answer”, collect the data and look at in in a new way. Don’t dismiss leads because you think a position is too low on the totem pole. Taking a stand against something that could lead to the right path could turn out to be irreversible later.
Let go and look forward. The past is the past. You are doing you in the here and now. Who can you grow into once you have overcome the challenge at hand? Figure out how conquering an adverse situation now can help you in years to come.
Looking down instead of ahead can cause you to end up with your head hitting a brick wall or getting sideswiped by a car you didn’t see coming. The same devastation can happen with your career if you don’t know where you are going and don’t have a plan. If your plan is nothing more than to continue doing what you are doing and expect everything else around you to remain the same, then ever-changing business needs may leave you in a ditch.
For some people, not having goals can feel like freedom. For others, it can create considerable confusion and waste energy. It’s common to assume that once you have landed a job, all you have to do is show up every day to live happily ever after. Those days are long behind us. The promise of the gold watch and stars for attendance are as obsolete as dial telephones. One way to take control over where you end up is by being clear about what you want, making your own decisions about where you want to be, researching to find out how that can happen and being very, very clear about what you can do to make sure you get there.
Take the reins back by knowing what is important and being aware of what it takes to get it.
Today’s work environment is less predictable than in the past, more susceptible to quick changes and less likely to present a clear path for moving forward. Economic needs change, business/organizational needs change and all the players involved can change in minutes. Unless you have a clear vision of the things that matter most to you, it’s easy to get distracted, become disillusioned and feel dejected when your circumstances change. Take the reins back by knowing what is important and being aware of what it takes to get it. Changes may cause you to alter your path, learn new skills or even jump ship, but your goals will continue to be the beacon that guides you in the right direction, even if the context changes.
Freedom can be experienced by knowing what you want and being so aware of what is going around you that you can make changes on your own before decisions are made about what will happen to you. Recklessly bouncing around between whatever presents itself next, without a clear notion of what is important to you, can lead to decisions that derail your career or work against your values. In the short term, some opportunities may seem exciting or pay well, but after digging further and learning more about the organization, industry or path you are superficially drawn to, you may learn that things are much different beneath the surface than what you were aware of. Differences in opinions or values at the highest level of the organization can end up shifting the culture completely. Financial issues can disrupt the course of business in a flash.
Sometimes sexy jobs can end just as quickly as they were developed if there isn’t a clear path to what they need to produce to be sustainable. As an example, being paid lots of money may be attractive until you learn that budgets were mismanaged and you are now out of a job entirely because drastic cutbacks are the only way to rectify the errors. As you look at all the elements of a work scenario to determine what is critical to your well-being, you may find that money is not really the most important element. It may prompt you to think before leaping ahead to “what looks too good to be true” and take a second look at options that might not be as glamorous but may offer a higher percentage of the criteria that matters to you overall.
Having clearly defined goals is powerful. Having fundamental goals that represent who you want to be in this world and what you want to get out of your life helps keep you on track. Helplessness turns into hopefulness. The clearer you are about what matters to you, the better you will be able to ask questions to learn if potential situations are right for you. Gaining the right information long before you are pressed to make a critical decision allows you to make powerful choices. Having a direction, hope and a plan can be the fuel you need to change your own reality. Take back control of your life and set some goals.
It’s commonly understood that there are many reasons to network with professionals in your field. What is not as widely recognized is the need to network with others outside of your field of interest and the benefits that can be gained. Networking outside of your comfort zone can lead to unexpected learning opportunities that can add to your development as a responsible citizen, employee or emerging leader.
To start thinking more broadly, it is helpful to reaffirm some of the obvious reasons for networking inside of your industry/profession. You may already network within your field to learn about technical innovations, your current marketability and new opportunities for advancement or to identify new areas to build skills and build your visibility to industry leaders. All of these reasons are widely accepted and practiced in many industries. But the downside of associating only with people having the same career interests is that it can close off opportunities to view the landscape from different perspectives.
The problem with having networking tunnel vision or a silo mentality is that the singlemindedness of both approaches tends to make things stay the same. Things might be good, might be bad, but they are very unlikely to change without a fresh viewpoint. Hearing a new perspective can be like choosing to listen to music based on your mood. New or different ideas can be brought together like a melody of notes played on different instruments. Valuing and leveraging differences can ultimately produce something greater than only one person or people with siloed interests can.
Speaking with people outside of your area of interest can lead to personal growth, tolerance and a greater understanding of those around you.
Speaking with people outside of your area of interest can lead to personal growth, tolerance and a greater understanding of those around you. Moving out of your comfort zone and associating with the general population can help you see important issues through a variety of lenses. It is easier to understand business decisions when you hear and learn about the experiences of people who work outside of your known arena. Talking to people who are unfamiliar with the commonly used acronyms in your field can force you to speak more clearly and precisely. Practicing the use of a different or broader vocabulary can improve your communication skills. Along the same lines, getting more comfortable with diverse groups or audiences will help your presentation skills.
Just as restaurants have created food fusions to produce fabulous new dining experiences and multicultural neighborhoods can create communities united by new traditions, networking with people with different interests can expand thinking and create new solutions to tough problems. Someone else’s naïve position on a current topic can often offer an unbiased view on some issues. Sometimes that naïveté can actually provide the opportunity to take a second look at what might have become your knee-jerk response. And asking and responding to questions from people unlike you can start entirely new and different dialogues. You just never know.
The more we all can learn to embrace differences and listen to new ideas, the more likely we are to produce truly new and fabulous results. Networking outside of your comfort zone with professionals who may seem to be completely different from you may stretch your brain and bring you unexpected results. Why not try it?