How do you choose to think about your career?

Back when I was at university, I had no idea what I wanted to be. I was doing a Marketing degree having switched out of Economics in my first year. I had an interest in computers. But that was about it. I had no career strategic formulated.

This doesn’t mean that I was clueless. Or a career didn’t matter. Or that I never thought about it. I very much thought about it. I had all that ambition you tend to have when you’re starting your way in ‘grown up’ life. Big things were on the horizon. I just didn’t know what those big things were. Or how to get closer to that horizon.

Alas, beyond ‘thoughts’, thinking about the realities of my career was still as cloudy as one of those Lancaster days I’d become accustomed to. Besides, I was was fully occupied with studying, my part time job and, you know, the uni bar crawls to spendĀ too much time mapping out my career.

But, like your life, your career will move forward regardless of the effort or thought you put into it. Without dedicated thought, your career will drift forward. It’ll be at the whim of managers and colleagues, chance encounters and ‘fate’. You might end up exactly where you think you might have wanted to be. Or you might not. You could, of course, take more than a betting man’s approach and be the master of your destiny.

Master your own journey

There are a few things you can do to get yourself into a position where you are the driver of your career.

You have a set of skills. Your ability to improve them and add to them is not finite. Your career will largely be defined by your skillset and how you’ve been able to demonstrate your use of those skills. Make sure your skills (and experience of applying them) tallies with you desired career strategy.

Your career is not defined by your bank balance. It’s not about your fabulous job title. It’s not about being a member of that ‘exclusive’ committee that happens to have the divisional director sitting on it. Be less hung up on status and how you appear to other people; concentrate more on whether what you’re doing and where you are is congruent with your career plan.

So you want to advance? You want a promotion? What does that even mean? Getting a promotion does not necessarily equate to advancing your career. If your focus is entirely about getting that promotion, it’s likely that the role you’re doing will suffer. It’s also likely that getting a promotion just because you want a promotion is going to eventually leave you in a position which is very much incongruent with your actual career aspirations. Regarding your career, if you focus exclusively on improving your skills and your impact to your organisation or beyond, the promotions, raises and accolades tend to come as a byproduct. You’ll probably be happier that way as well.

Also on the subject of promotions, if you are hoping for a promotion, don’t think about it in isolation. Will what you’re doing (increasing your skills, talking to the right people, getting the boss’s coffee) make you happy and will it make you attractive for other roles, managers or companies? There’s a bigger world out there than just trying to please one person to get one step up on that ladder. Think broadly when thinking about your career. Acquire marketable skills.

Careers are long, so invest into them where it counts.