How to Make Room For Career Growth – Even If You’re Not Sure of the Next Step

What’s the logical next step after your current position?

We’ve all heard stories of the CEO who started picking orders in the warehouse 30 years ago. But where a defined career path used to be a reasonable expectation (or at least a believable fairy tale), these days few careers are a straight path with a clear-cut destination: a final rung on a defined ladder.

Your career may feel like a meandering journey, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have ambitions to grow. So how do you create a growth plan if there’s not a specific next step?

Take responsibility

It may sound scary to work without a road map, but don’t worry – no one’s asking you to! Instead, you need to create your own road map. You have to take responsibility for your career, because no one else is going to.

Carve out time every six to twelve months to evaluate your goals and plan for the future. Go ahead, schedule it into your calendar today. Take yourself out for a day-long hike with your trusty voice recorder, book a session with a life coach, or ask for a week off to attend a meditation retreat. One friend of mine rents a beach house by herself every year around her birthday, and spends the time reevaluating her life and her goals.

However you do it, take time to think about what it is you want to achieve. What legacy would you like to leave? In a way, that’s both your destination and your journey.

Identifying the job you want

The next step in your career may not always be apparent. Maybe you’re working for a small organization with little room for promotion, or your managers, who aren’t much older than you, seemingly have no plans to leave anytime soon. Or maybe you’re just not that into the logical next step. Whatever the case, it’s up to you to carve out your own path.

To get started, visualize a Day in the Life of Future You. Pick a day five or ten years into the future, and imagine what you’ll be doing from the moment you wake up until you hit the sack at night. What appeals to you about this scenario? What goals have you achieved?

Now, trace the path it took you to get there from where you are right now.

  • What skills will you need to learn?
  • What strengths will you build on?
  • What job experience will you need?
  • What life changes will you need to make?

This exercise will help you understand the next logical steps

Making your current position work with your plan

Unless all this self-reflection has led you to make a 180-degree turn from accountant to ski instructor, it’s time to figure out what you can do in your current position to get started on that path.

Having an open discussion about how your professional development goals will benefit the organization is one of the best ways to get your manager on board with your career growth.

Meet with your manager to share your own career goals, and discuss how they fit into the direction the organization is growing. If there are specific skills or knowledge areas you want to develop, provide concrete examples of how that will help the organization. Bring some ideas to the table – say, if a coworker’s departure has left a gap that needs filled, or a new initiative requires skills you don’t have yet. Or maybe another coworker is taking on new responsibilities and you know you’d like to take on some of her old ones.

The changes may be small at first, but gradually you’ll find yourself reaching that next step.

Just remember – if you don’t make plans for your career, someone else will!

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