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It’s Never Too Late to Be More Purposeful With Your Career

I recently attended a session for the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University that I am taking virtually with other senior executives. At the beginning of this session, the instructor asked each of us to “pick one word that others would use to describe you and explain why.” Some of the other senior executives shared that they would be described as reliable, dependable, calm, honest, committed or positive. One relatively new executive said he hoped he would be described as deserving.

Purposeful was the word I selected. I explained that the word purposeful came to mind for me because I was recently given the authority to reorganize the teams that I manage. And, having made numerous changes with broad impact, I hoped those affected saw my actions as purposeful.

But, purposeful was likely also on my mind because January is National Be On Purpose Month. While it isn’t widely commemorated, the rationale behind the designation is to encourage each of us to give more meaning and purpose to our good intentions (and New Year’s resolutions if you still make them). So, today I will use my weekly column to share some simple tips I have used during my own career that might help you be more purposeful and on target with your career goals in 2021:

  • Write out an action plan for the year. Even if you think you are past the stage of needing an individual development plan (IDP), thinking out your plans and writing them down will make you more likely to act upon them, no matter what stage of your career you are in (e.g. first year on the job or heading towards retirement).
  • Make sure the actions described in your plan are based on goals that are SMART, i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. That’s the problem with basic, run of the mill New Year’s resolutions – they are usually lofty, but rarely SMART.
  • To accomplish your SMART goals, make a daily to-do list that isn’t just full of transactional activities. Rather, at least some of the items on your daily list should be focused on transforming your career and reaching your ultimate goals.
  • Seek out a formal mentoring relationship with someone you think can help you transform your career. We always say we have mentors, but formalizing the relationship with a request, stated expectations of what you want to gain from the relationship and a proposed meeting schedule (e.g. monthly, quarterly, etc.) will make the relationship more meaningful.
  • Commit to life- long learning. When we are young in our careers, we are hungry for knowledge and training. We should keep that same hunger throughout our career, and we should also be able to show proof of that hunger on paper when we apply for the next position.

So, why is being purposeful so important anyway? According to In Pursuit of Purpose author Myles Munroe:

“Without knowledge of purpose, life becomes an endless string of activities with little or no significance. Like a rider on a rocking horse, life without purpose makes much motion but no progress.”

It is never too late to get off the rocking horse and make a plan to be more purposeful.

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Shirley A. Jones, Esq. is a Senior Executive Service (SES) member in the federal government and a certified leadership and diversity and inclusion trainer. Considering herself an employee advocate and a career development trainer, she was recently elected National President of Blacks In Government (BIG). Ms. Jones has had the opportunity to testify before Congress on the lack of diversity in the SES and frequently speaks at events in the Washington, D.C., area. She often addresses a variety of topics related to leadership and empowerment. Ms. Jones has also written Op-Ed pieces for the historic AFRO newspaper, HBCU Connect, and other publications.

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Maddie Willis

Shirley, I love that you added ‘Commit to life- long learning.’ I think this is so important and often overlooked when mapping out your goals.