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Most of us would prefer to think long-term about our careers, rather than just veering randomly to snag perceived opportunities and avoid pitfalls. But how can you adopt a strategic lens when you might not be entirely sure where you want to end up?
One of the most important elements in thinking strategically about your career is understanding that our lives operate in cycles — or “thinking in waves” — and we have to recognize where we are in that process.
Get clear on what you don’t want, and then take steps to avoid that. It’s much easier to identify things you know you dislike, rather than ideating about a hypothetical future.
For instance, you might decide you never want to work for a micromanaging boss again, or you’re done with your current industry, or you no longer want to work hands-on and only want to take on advisory roles. Those are extremely useful pieces of data pointing towards what you do want
By asking: How can I make sure I avoid these things in the future?, you can follow the resultant path that unfolds.
We all know it’s impossible to do everything at once. And yet it’s hard to resist the lure of too many goals. Instead, we need to get disciplined and narrow down our focus.
Think about how you can narrow down your options (by focusing on what you don’t want) and then pick one direction as your “provisional hypothesis” for where you want your career to go. You can always change your mind later, but you’ve made an informed choice and will be strategically working toward a plausible goal.
focus on the professional equivalent of basic research and double down on foundational skills and knowledge that will make you better, no matter what direction you ultimately decide to pursue. Learning to code in a particular computer language may not be helpful if you decide to leave engineering — but becoming a better public speaker or honing your time management skills are likely to be useful in almost any profession.
You may have been languishing during the pandemic, but now feel ready to shake off the torpor and dive into new projects with zeal.
Or you may have spent the past two years working at the outer edges of your limits, just trying to keep everything together. If that’s the case, this probably isn’t the moment to go all in at work.
Instead, you may need to manage your energy and recognize that the best thing you can do for your long-term career success is to take a well-deserved break.
Short-term pressures always intrude on our long-term career planning, and that’s especially true when we’ve been through a collective period of crisis. Even if we’re not entirely sure where we want to end up, by following these strategies, we can ensure we’re taking the right steps to move away from what isn’t working for us, and toward a future that seems more hopeful.
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