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Career clarity: The most useful career skill you’ve never been taught

Knowing what you want and where you’re going saves time and energy. It’s so obvious and yet, in spite of this, so many of us put our careers on autopilot, either on a course to nowhere in particular or to somewhere we don’t want to end up. I’ve definitely done this, have you? Your career […]

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Knowing what you want and where you’re going saves time and energy.

It’s so obvious and yet, in spite of this, so many of us put our careers on autopilot, either on a course to nowhere in particular or to somewhere we don’t want to end up.

I’ve definitely done this, have you?

Your career is on track… but to where?

For the longest time I thought myself lucky to have an ‘accidental’ career. By this I mean, I worked hard, put in the hours, was loyal and committed and subsequently opportunities and promotions came to me… fan-bleep-tastic, right? Or so I thought… until I realised, as a career strategy this was useless. What’s the point in successfully arriving somewhere I didn’t want to be?

Finally recognising this type of ‘plan’ for what it was – at best uninspired and at worst completely disempowering – was both an ah-ha moment and a bitter disappointment. I couldn’t believe I’d willingly relinquished control over my career success and personal satisfaction. It was also incredibly confusing. On paper my career looked awesome – responsibility, status, money, perks – but I was dragging myself through each work week like it was a miserable chore.

The opinions of others become your reality

Once I became aware of this phenomenon, I quickly realised I wasn’t alone. As a corporate senior manager and now as a career coach, I’ve had this same conversation dozens of times. At some point, in our high school years, ‘career-dreaming’ is replaced with a more functional process based on the advice, guidance, recommendations and opinions of well-meaning authority figures (parents, teachers, managers etc).

We believe these views of both our strengths and our limitations, they become galvanised as ‘truth’. And, in accepting these ‘truths’ and letting others decide who we are and what will work best for us, we inadvertently give up on what’s most important to us.

Making career decisions can be intimidating and scary. It makes sense to seek opinions and feedback from those we respect. And gathering a range of perspectives is insightful and valuable. But also tainted by the desires and fears of the contributors.

The problem is we’re never really taught how to identify what we truly want or instructed on how to make informed decisions using insights as inputs, rather than indisputable facts.

Start with career clarity

In his Harvard Business Review article titled, “Managing yourself: what brain science tells us about how to excel,” psychiatrist Edward Hallowell explains that achieving peak performance and happiness (in work and life) starts with choosing the right role. A role at the intersection of what you like to do, what you’re good at and what value you create.

When you’re not clear and focussed on what you want, you’re more likely to –

  • End up far down a career path that doesn’t suit you
  • Feel confused, lost or easily distracted
  • Struggle to make confident career decisions
  • Lack the ability to prioritise your efforts, time and resources
  • Become fed up, frustrated and demotivated

BUT, unless you get crystal clear about where you want your career to go, it’s almost impossible to make the choices you need to make to achieve a career that is both successful and satisfying.

Time to make it all about you

Good news! It’s never too late to release yourself from the opinions and expectations of others and get clear about the career you’re meant to have. Here are three things you can do today to start getting career clarity:

1.         Dare to dream.

Visualise and explore what your ideal situation looks and feels like. This is not about job titles or specific tasks but about day-to-day details – Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? Who are you helping? What value are you creating? How do you feel in these surroundings? What’s your daily schedule look like?

2.         Start where you are.

Honestly and objectively describe your current situation. What do you like about it? What are you frustrated and fed up with? What would you like to change or improve? What would you like to do more of? What would you like to less of or not at all?

3.         Action over inertia.

What first action step can you take today that brings that ideal situation a little bit closer? You only need one action step. Getting started creates momentum so trust that the next steps will reveal themselves as you need them.

Ok then, are you ready? It’s time to jump in the driver’s seat and take back control of your career future.

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