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Navigating Your Career When You Don’t Have a Map

Have you ever asked yourself this question: “What do I want to do with my career?” We’ve all been there at some point or another. Sometimes, the opportunities present themselves and it’s very clear what we want to do. However, we don’t all have that luxury. Maybe you’re just trying to pay the bills and don’t feel like you can do a job that you love. Maybe you’ve become the “duties as assigned” person and don’t really have a clear path or direction to go. So what can you do if you feel a bit stuck and don’t know where to go?

What Brings You Joy?

Sometimes, figuring out what you want for a long-term plan starts with the simplest question — what do you want? Of course, it’s not always that easy. When you’ve worked odd jobs and have been exposed to various things, it can be hard to figure out what best suits you. But it can be as simple as thinking about what you like to do. Do you like working with people? Do you like working with data or computers? Figure out what brings you that happiness in the workplace spectrum.

On top of that, think about why you like what you like. For example, I love being a trainer, but when I think about why I like training, a lot of those reasons boil down to the connections I make from training. I also love it when I can see the lightbulb go off in class for a student. Knowing that I made their job or their life that much easier and that they appreciated the training makes it all worth it for me.

Your Career Values

One of my previous blog posts discussed an activity revolving around career values and why they may be the key to your work happiness. Analyzing your values for your career and your life can help you to identify why a job or a workplace may or may not be right for you. This also can help you to navigate your long-term plan. What is important to you when it comes to your work? Do you value flexibility, structure, maybe a bit of both? And, analysis can point out career paths or positions that might fit those values, versus you trying to change yourself for a job that you might like.

Of course, these values may end up changing based on life events and experiences. It never hurts to sit back every few years and think about whether your values have changed. I know some of my values have changed in my federal career, while others have gotten more clear and solidified. And that’s ok — we change, and so can our plans.

Become a Cartographer

Ok, maybe not literally. But if you don’t have a map…create one! Based on what you want to do and what you want out of your work, figure out next steps for what you can do to get there. Can you take classes to develop some skills you might need, whether through work or other means? Can you shadow someone who has a position that you are interested in? Is there someone who can serve as a mentor for you? The possibilities are nearly endless!

Of course, this could be what is holding you back. Maybe there is too much that you could do. My suggestion? Just pick one thing! What’s the most attainable thing that you can achieve now to get to that next step? You don’t need to have the whole path mapped out. Even if you can just get out of your neighborhood, you are making progress. As you continue to identify and take these steps, more opportunities can come to light as well.

Sing It From the Rooftop!

Once you begin to come up with a plan, voicing that plan can help you commit to it. Discuss your plans with your supervisor at your next check-in. See if there are things that you can do with your team that can aid in your goals. Put your goals in your individual development plan. This way, not only do you have documentation of where you want to go, but you’ve got someone who can help hold you accountable. You can even share your plans with your colleagues or friends to help give you that extra boost.

Myranda Whitesides is a Performance Support Specialist for the Interior Business Center, the Department of Interior’s Shared Services Center. She conducts personnel and payroll systems training for over 50 federal agencies, as well as providing training in Diversity and Inclusion for her peers. Myranda also serves as a volunteer for the Mile High Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), coordinating Educational content for Human Resources professionals in the Denver Metro area. In her free time, Myranda enjoys singing, camping, and exploring local breweries and restaurants with her husband, Daniel.

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