What do you want from your career?

what do you want from your career

It’s a bit of an arbitrary idea to set goals at the beginning of a calendar year, but it’s as good a time as any, I think! After most of us have had some time off, time with our families, away from our usual work environment, we come back to the office with fresh new ideas and a determination to turn them into reality. It’s an opportunity to evaluate where we are and where we want to get to, and to start getting intentional about narrowing that gap instead of continuing as we always have, on autopilot. What do you want from your career?

Your late twenties and early thirties represent a particularly good moment to do so in my opinion. You’ve reached a critical point in your career; you’ve got a good amount of experience under your belt, you’ve been promoted a few times, and you’ve got a decent salary. But, as Stephen Covey said, “It doesn’t really matter how fast you’re going if you’re heading in the wrong direction.” Having the right goals in place is fundamental to successfully achieving them, and for that achievement to really contribute to your happiness and life satisfaction.

“It doesn’t really matter how fast you’re going if you’re heading in the wrong direction.” – Stephen Covey

So the number one priority at this stage is to get clear on what your priorities actually are! Once you’ve done that, you can identify what are the obstacles that are getting in your way, develop strategies to address these and move forward, and then track and maintain your progress throughout the year.

Here are three steps, three exercises, to help you to get clear on what it is you really want from your career in 2016 – and beyond. You’ll need a bit of time to work through these exercises and give these questions the proper time that they deserve. Perhaps you can set aside a couple of hours over the weekend?

1. Identify your values

Defining your values is something most of us don’t do, at least not explicitly. Doing so can help you to answer questions like whether you would be best served staying in your current role, accepting a promotion, quitting to start your own business, and so on. It gives you clarity on what’s really important to you and can help to shape your big life decisions as well as your everyday choices.

When thinking about what your values are, try to go beyond the obvious, to the deeper value that lies beneath the surface. If you’ve always dreamed of becoming CEO of a big company: What is the value behind this? Is it about getting recognition? Prestige? Is it about knowing that you’re making a difference? Is it to do with your personal growth and learning? Leadership? If money feels important: What is it that money gives you? Security? Financial independence? Is it the ability to buy nice things? To travel? Freedom to do what you want? These different interpretations all have very different implications.

If you’re feeling a bit stuck, here are some ideas for possible values that might be important to you; they may or may not be directly related to work!

  • Creativity
  • Learning
  • Pleasure
  • Spirituality
  • Leadership
  • Winning
  • Adventure
  • Accomplishment
  • Freedom
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Certainty
  • Ambition
  • Balance
  • Compassion
  • Discipline
  • Loyalty
  • Friendship
  • Excellence
  • Generosity
  • Flexibility
  • Fun
  • Independence
  • Happiness
  • Decisiveness
  • Justice
  • Reason
  • Usefulness

Once you have a list, try to narrow it down to maybe 6-8 values, and ideally try also to identify your top 3 – this will really help you when you are faced with difficult choices in the future.

2. Use the Wheel of Life

Wheel of LifeI’ve written before about using the Wheel of Life to identify priorities across different areas of your life. Another way to use this tool is to help you prioritise among your values, and to subsequently identify appropriate action steps.

Once you’ve defined your 6-8 values in the previous exercise, grab a pen and paper and draw a circle, dividing it into the same number of sections. Label each section with one of your values.

For each section, think about the extent to which you are embodying this value in your current lifestyle, both professionally and personally. Give it a score on a scale of 1 to 10. So, for example, if your first value that you’ve identified is “learning”, and your current role feels very routine and boring with few opportunities for growth, you might put this at a 4 out of 10. Draw a line across this section of the wheel. Repeat this for each of your values.

Wheel of LifeThe next step is to give each value an ideal score, again on a scale of 1 to 10. Note that this ideal may or may not be the full 10 out of 10. Again taking the “learning” example, maybe your ideal level for 2016 is a 7 out of 10. Draw a line across that section to represent this score. Continue to set an ideal level for each value around the wheel.

Now take a look at your wheel and the scores you’ve given each value. Can you see any patterns? Are there a couple of areas where there is a big gap between your current state and where you want to be? Maybe you have an average score across all values, so there’s no completely disconnected area but there is also no area where you are fully satisfied?

Depending on what your wheel looks like, you might choose a couple of areas to focus on where you really want to make a big shift in 2016. I would choose a maximum of three areas, to allow you to focus on your biggest priorities – look back at your list of top three values to help you here as well. Of course, if you find that there is a huge gap on each and every one of your values between where you are today and where you want to be, you may want to consider some quite dramatic changes in your life in order to better align yourself with what’s really important to you.

3. Set ambitious but achievable goals

I’m a big fan of goals! Setting goals will give you a sense of purpose, focus your limited time and energy on what’s really important, and motivate you to achieve something that is really meaningful to you. Anchoring your goals in your values is fundamental to achieving them and for that achievement to really contribute to your happiness and life satisfaction.

Taking the areas you’ve identified in the Wheel of Life exercise, you can now go ahead and define a goal for each of those areas. When setting your goals, you might want to bear in mind the SMART criteria. These are often used in the corporate world and can be pretty helpful when it comes to your personal career goals as well.

S – Specific: Getting specific on the goals that you want to achieve will give you more clarity on what success looks like, and help you to identify the concrete steps that will get you there.

M – Measurable: If you can’t measure your goal, then how will you know if you’ve achieved it? How will you track your progress?

A – Achievable: Goals that may seem completely out of your reach can become achievable if you break them down into smaller steps and give yourself a reasonable time frame in which to achieve them.

R – Relevant: A relevant goal is a goal that is meaningful to you, as well as being relevant to the wider context, to what’s going on in the world around you, personally and professionally.

T – Time-bound: Finally, setting a deadline will help you to focus and will also give you a sense of urgency, which can motivate you to act now rather than putting it off until later.

So a SMART version of the rather vague “I want to do better at work this year” might be “I want to improve my leadership skills, in particular my verbal communication and my presentations in front of senior management, so that I will be ready for promotion by January 2017.”

Instead of saying “I want to build my image in the office,” you might say, “I want to get more exposure to senior managers in different departments and become known for being the expert on x topic, so that I get chosen for project y at the start of the new fiscal year.”

And rather than “I want to quit my job,” a more effective goal could be: “I want to save £x in y months to allow me to hand in my notice by z date knowing that I have a buffer saved up.”

Setting SMART goals will allow you to get specific also in terms of the actions you need to take to get there. For example, in the case of that first goal of improving your leadership skills, a next step might be to sign up for a presentation skills course, or to ask your manager to give you more feedback on your behaviour in meetings.

Ultimately, setting goals is about intentionally creating the life that you want; one step at a time.


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