27 September 2023

Avoid these career sticking points

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May Busch outlines three danger points in a career, which if not addressed can leave you frustrated and floundering with no prospect of moving forward.

In the earlier stages of my career, I thought if I just worked hard and did a great job I would eventually get recognised for it and promoted.

It wasn’t until the mid-part of my career that I discovered being good at what you do is necessary, but not enough to ensure success.

Thinking strategically about your career is essential and there are three phases when it’s most important for you to do this.

These are: One — you know where you want to go but you want to know how you’ll get there.

Two — you’re unhappy where you are; you need a new direction and have to do something about it.

Three — everything is going fine, which makes it really easy to simply coast.

We all experience these phases at different times in our careers, and it can be difficult to get out of them. So, knowing how to navigate the pitfalls of each phase will ensure success.

So let’s examine these phases in greater detail.

You know where you’re going: Even when you have a clear goal, you might not be clear on exactly how to get there.

When I decided my goal was to make it to the C-Suite of my organisation, I couldn’t see the clear pathway to get there.

I eventually achieved my goal but it was a long and, at times, difficult journey.

There were many moments when I wasn’t sure if I was doing the ‘right’ things to help me along the way, or if I was even on track at all.

It wasn’t until I became strategic about my career trajectory and gave myself structure, milestones and a plan to reach my big goal that I felt confident I was moving in the direction of my aspirations.

The simplest and most effective way to do this is to have a career plan.

A career plan doesn’t have to be complex or prescribed, like “at age X I’ll be here and at age Y I’ll be there”. It can be simple.

Just make sure you’re using a framework that is manageable, flexible for change, and energising for you to look at and use.

Ask yourself: What do I want in my career? Where do I want to be in five or 10 years? What are my big career aspirations?

Simply having an idea of that big-picture goal gives you direction. It’s about working smarter, not just harder.

You’re unhappy where you are: Whether you’re just feeling stuck in your career or you’ve fallen into a career ‘bear trap’ and are trying to get out, this is a great time to pull back and develop a strategic plan.

The tricky thing about this phase is that when you’re really unhappy or feeling stuck, it can be hard to find your way to the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is when it’s helpful to take your long-term vision and break it down again by creating shorter-term interim milestones.

These are like yearly checkpoints that let you know you’re on track to achieve your big goals.

They give you something to shoot for when your big five-year goal seems too distant to relate to.

Since a year can still feel like a long time, you can also break the interim milestones down further.

Having 90-day goals and specific action steps to take towards your milestones will give you the clarity and the confidence to act, and the momentum to keep moving forward to achieving your bigger vision for your career.

Everything is going fine: This is actually one of the most dangerous times in your career because it’s when you can miss a lot of signs.

It’s really easy to not even think about planning your career and just coast along.

Then before you know it, you’ve been in the same role for too long or moving sideways when you want to move up.

Or maybe you’ve advanced, but it feels like it wasn’t on your terms and you’ve gone wherever the wind has blown you.

Once you pass a certain point in your career, it’s not enough to work really hard, do an excellent job, and believe the organisation will recognise, reward and promote you.

So don’t get lulled into a sense of complacency because this strategy has worked for you in the past.

This is the time to zoom out and do some planning. As they say: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”, and the one mistake you don’t want to make is to do nothing.

While having a career plan doesn’t guarantee success (you never know what will happen in this world), it does give you a much, much higher likelihood of success.

When you’re stuck in one of these phases, trying to get out can seem daunting and even impossible, but it can be simple; it can be easy; it can even be fun.

So, which phase are you in right now?

*May Busch’s mission is to help leaders and their organisations achieve their full potential. She works with smart entrepreneurs and top managements to build their businesses. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared on May’s blogsite

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