Undoubtedly, 2020 was a tough year in many workplaces. If your career stalled or even regressed over the past 12 months, that’s understandable. Still, with 2021 just starting we have fresh opportunities to grow. Especially as the world begins to recover from the events of 2020.
It’s okay if, until now, your top priority has been career survival, but that isn’t sustainable in the long-term and this tactic will quickly become outdated in 2021. Therefore, it’s worth taking time this month to reflect on your current career, your goals, and who can help you achieve them. Doing this exercise now, early on in the year, will help you make significant strides in 2021 to give your career longevity – despite ongoing uncertainty.
Start with skills
I’d begin this with your skills. Ultimately, everything hinges on the skills that you have and the skills you need to develop. Take a cold, hard look at your existing skills. Then, consider what skills you will need this year, in the next 3-5 years, and longer-term. It’s worth asking your employer (specifically your colleagues, manager, and other senior leaders) for their input (your manager can also advise you based on what they need to fulfil their strategy). You can also look at your industry and predictions for your space – then work out what skills you’ll need based on this.
For example, recent research has found that advanced IT and programming skills will be the most important skill in HR, finance, operations and IT roles in 2021. But in marketing and sales, the most important skill is leadership and managing others.
Finally, think about what you want to work on in the coming months and years. If you want to switch roles or industries, consider the skills you’ll need to achieve this.
Once you know what skills you should prioritise in 2021, the next step is to find ways to develop them. We now have a plethora of learning options (admittedly, in-person learning is limited right now, but there’s still a lot of online content). Find formats that suit your learning style from reading a book to watching a TED Talk, or turning to your peers for their best practices.
Many people use the new year as an opportunity to set personal resolutions. It’s also a great time to think about your career goals for the next 12 months. Building certain skills might be one goal, working on a specific project might be another. Having goals to aim for will improve your performance. 93% of workers feel that setting goals are vital to their work performance.
It also pays to communicate them with trusted peers and your manager. That way, you have accountability to motivate you to meet those goals. By sharing your goals with your manager, you also give them the opportunity to find ways for your company to support you more effectively, whether this is through formal L&D (learning and development) or through work opportunities.
Developing the right skills will be useless unless you put them into action. The forgetting curve shows that we forget 90% of what we learn within one month of learning it – unless it is regularly reinforced through work. Ask for opportunities at work to practice new skills or seek stretch assignments or volunteering activities that complement your learning.
Likewise, to grow, you need to go out of your comfort zone and to challenge your abilities and skills. Go for every opportunity that aligns with your career goals. Especially if you’re a woman – it’s unfortunately common for women to not take a career opportunity unless they are 100% qualified for them (men, meanwhile, apply when 60% qualified).
Although your career is deeply personal, you cannot grow it without help and support. Speaker and entrepreneur Stacey Flowers says that you need five key people (a cheerleader, a mentor, a coach, a friend and a peer) in your life to be happy and successful. In particular, a mentor will help to show you the way on your career journey, while a coach will take you out of your comfort zone. Whoever you choose to appoint to your ‘personal career board’ should help with some aspect of your career goals. They could also help you with your work/life balance and life stage – a fellow working parent, for example.
Another thing to consider is building relationships with people who will change your world view. This might be someone more junior, younger, or from a different race, gender identity, orientation and so on. It’s in challenging yourself, being open to having uncomfortable conversations, and in seeing different perspectives, that you will experience immense growth.
Don’t forget your wellbeing
The simple truth is that you cannot work well if your body and mind don’t work well. Your career growth will be hindered if you don’t take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. Having a greater sense of wellbeing leads to 31% higher productivity in workers.
But it’s a two-way street because your work can also impact your wellbeing. 55% of workers find that a lack of skills makes their job more stressful and 38% say that their mental health suffers as a result.
So, what can you do to support your wellbeing? I’ve gone into greater detail in a dedicated article, but for starters:
- Get enough sleep. More than seven hours to be exact.
- Meditate. It’s like a reset button for your brain.
- Communicate openly and honestly.
- Build your skills. Obviously, this ties in with the stat above linking stress to a lack of the right skills.
- Exercise. Building your physical strength will strengthen your mental firepower too.
Your starting point
These are some of the steps that my team and I are working on in the first few weeks of 2021. By all means, it isn’t an all-encompassing list, but it’s a good starting point for strengthening your career this year.
One last point, your career is a long and winding marathon, not a sprint. The steps you achieve this year will be part of a longer journey and may not immediately pay off. But make no mistake, a decade from now you will look back on 2021 and see the positives that it brought to your career.