Taking Control of Your Career: The Fundamental Skill of Career Management

Progress not perfection

I can’t believe that we’re already in the middle of the year!  Looking back over the past six months, it’s time to take stock of where we’ve been — and where we’re going.

While such career self-reflection seems to be a natural part of the December holiday season, it should be a part of our on-going routine.  With half the year gone, it’s a time to take stock of where we’ve been…compared to where we planned to be…and decide NOW where we’re going.

But here’s the problem:  for over-achievers, the quest for perfection often derails our probability for success.  In other words, we can begin right now to quit striving for perfection and instead commit to progress.

Successful career management is NOT a one-time, one-size-fits-all undertaking.  It is more than just resume writing and interviewing.  Managing your career is instead an adaptive journey that YOU have created that will lead you to a constantly evolving destination.

Think about your own career:  what you wanted as a new graduate is often quite different from what you desire as a seasoned professional – so your career map needs to reflect both the tangible and intangible elements of your professional goals.

How to Evaluate Progress in Your Career 

Tip #1: Recognize that “perfection” is an illusion – but “progress” can be planned for.  No two people have the same definition of any word; nowhere is this more apparent than in the definition of a “perfect” career.

The denotative (i.e., “dictionary”) definition of “progress” is simply “forward or onward movement toward a destination.” Notice that there is no time constraint included in the definition. As long as you are moving forward toward your goal, you ARE making progress.

Tip #2: “Progress” is NOT a comparative.  Don’t beat yourself up if your progress to date doesn’t match that of your brother, sister, college roommate, or coworker. Everyone’s path will be different — and that’s a very good thing.

The most effective measurement of your professional progress over time is based on what YOU are capable of.  Your strengths and areas of improvement are unique to you – so the progress that you make will also be uniquely yours.

Tip #3: Determine the “what” BEFORE planning for the “how” of your progress. Said another way, the “how” of your progress (the action plan or steps) can only be designed AFTER the “what” has been identified (your destination or outcome).  This is NOT just trying to find a job when you’ve been downsized or burned out; this IS learning the tools of successful career management.

Set aside time to decide what makes you happy, fulfilled, and satisfied. Find a quiet place and set a timer for 30 minutes. Then write down or record your answers to these questions – don’t be shy about your wants and needs…now is the time to be BOLD!

  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • How do you want to be managed?
  • What kind of environment supports your progress?
  • What do you want your legacy to be? (Hint: You’re going to leave a legacy based on the actions that you have taken – in other words, you cannot NOT leave a legacy!)

Tip #4: Objectively describe where you are RIGHT NOW in your career. This can be a difficult process, but be brutally honest with yourself – no one else needs to read what you’ve written. Focus on how you feel before deciding what you need to do next:

  • Unsure of your next career step? Conduct a professional work experience audit in order to develop a step-by-step plan for the next 12 months.
  • In a career that no longer inspires you? Resolve to make the time to clearly identify your “must haves” and “can’t stands” in your job and overall career. Be sure to focus not only on what you want in a career, but also what you are willing to sacrifice in order to finally land your dream job.
  • Intrigued with the idea of being your own boss? Commit to letting go of your fears in order to take the first tenuous steps to writing a business plan and launching your own business – don’t be afraid to ask for help from other entrepreneurs!

Tip #5: Focus on BOTH the tangible and intangible aspects of work.  Being a professional “success” does not necessarily focus exclusively on the tangible results (such as upward mobility, increasing income, or notoriety). These are just the outward trappings of the traditional notion of “success.”

People who are happy with their careers and motivated by their work also focus on the intangible aspects of their jobs. Because these intangibles are key differentiators between one person’s idea of “success” and another’s, don’t compare what you want to the goals or results of other people.

Tip #6: Don’t let the naysayers prevent you from finding your own bliss.  NO ONE can tell you what to do with your life or why you should do it. While career coaches can offer insights and ideas on various career paths, the ultimate decision is yours. Only you know what makes you happy…what drives you crazy…what inspires you…and what demoralizes you.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

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