Article by Elise Mitchell
If there’s one truth in life, it’s that you can’t map out everything. No matter how carefully you plan, you’ll find yourself on some detours. This is especially true when it comes to your professional journey. With so much unexpected — and, many times, unwanted — change, it can be tempting to toss out the road map and simply go wherever the wind blows you.
I’d like to encourage you to fight that urge. There’s still something to be said for strategic career-mapping. As an entrepreneur with more than 20 years under my belt, I believe thoughtful planning is fundamental to creating a fulfilling and successful career. I’m not the only one who feels this way: The 2017 “MRINetwork Millennial Hiring Trends Study” found that 53 percent of millennials want to map out their careers, too.
There’s no denying that traditional employment has largely been supplanted by short-term, part-time, and gig-specific work. In other words, our careers have grown more dynamic. However, this economic evolution has not made “old-school” career-planning obsolete. It simply means we need to adopt new, more adaptable mindsets when considering our career paths.
Creating a career map originally meant determining how to artfully navigate the corporate ladder. In those days, your career path was a straight shot with very few deviations: work in X department long enough, become X department’s supervisor, advance to Y department, and so it went until you retired.
Today’s maps are less linear. They are full of twists and turns as people navigate opportunities and develop capabilities that lead to new roles, often outside their current companies. About 35 percent of workers freelance, according to a report from Freelancers Union and Upwork, and even more dabble in gig work as needed. These workers bear the responsibility for ensuring they have the necessary skills to advance in their careers. No employer will set that path out for them.
We’ve become a nation (and perhaps a world) of individualists. We’re dreamers, with the understanding those dreams will never come to fruition if we aren’t flexible and journey-minded.
Nevertheless, unpredictability can be a hard pill to swallow. At least, it was for me.
Avoiding Career-Mapping Roadblocks
“Focus on what only you can do. Give the rest of it away.”
I made this my mantra during a crucial time of growth at my company, when I needed to give more authority to our senior leaders. I had no idea how difficult delegating that authority would be.
Accepting and acknowledging that you hold tightly to responsibilities you enjoy is one thing; doing something about it is quite another. For me, giving away the final say for clients, programs, and initiatives I’d built and loved was almost gut-wrenching. But I knew growth would be stymied if I didn’t share all the best stuff with my most trusted leaders.
Once I did this, I saw how these leaders were able to improve upon what I’d started through their fresh perspectives. Plus, there were other things I needed to focus on in order to move us forward. Not surprisingly, I saw my own professional growth take off when I took on new challenges. Had I not released myself from those ties, I would have been stuck.
Not all career-mapping is this challenging, but it can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re interested in setting out a career map of your own, try a few of these strategies to get yourself moving along your preferred route.
1. Focus on Making Your “Good” into “Great”
Each of us has areas in which we excel without trying too hard. Maybe you’re a pro networker or a ninja closer. Identify your good skills and turn them into great ones by working your tail off. Don’t waste time trying to become awesome at what you don’t do well — or worse, at what you hate to do. Instead, passionately and enthusiastically become the best you can be when it comes to your natural gifts.
2. Take One Step Forward Every Day
A half hour per day is all it takes to keep moving ahead on your professional journey. Spend your 30 minutes brainstorming things you can do to develop your abilities and recharge your optimism. Could you read a specific book? Have coffee with a mentor or industry influencer? Rather than thinking too much about the big picture, focus on taking yourself down the road one step at a time.
3. Figure Out What Success Looks Like
Every person has a different measure of success. What is yours? Do you want to start a business? Have an impact on people in need? Write a book and go on the public speaking circuit? Spend a few moments reflecting on what success means to you, then determine how you might reach that destination from where you are today.
While the distance could be great, you shouldn’t quit your current job immediately — or even at all. You might be able to reach your destination through other avenues — such as volunteering or a side hustle — that allow you to maintain a dependable income at the same time. If you do eventually have to say goodbye to your workplace, you’ll feel better about doing so, thanks to the purpose you’ve set for yourself.
4. Build a Robust, Genuine Support System
Focus on your relationships in both your work and personal lives. Humans rely on connections; the more trustworthy, honest cheerleaders you have, the richer your career journey will be. Plus, when you hit a rough spot in the road or have to backtrack, they’ll be there beside you. Who knows? They might even willingly take the wheel for a few miles until you get your second wind.
If there’s one thing you shouldn’t be, it’s a passive participant in your career journey. You have a destination in mind, and even if it seems very far away, it’s reachable as long as you chart a course and stubbornly — and gleefully — forge ahead.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Elise Mitchell is the CEO of Mitchell, an award-winning strategic communications firm. She helped build Mitchell into one of the top 10 fastest-growing firms globally and a two-time “Agency of the Year” winner, honored by PRWeek and The Holmes Report. Elise has received numerous awards, including being named “PRWeek Agency Public Relations Professional of the Year” and a “Top 50 Power Player in PR.” Elise’s book, Leading Through the Turn, is now available for purchase. Find out more about the book here.