In every job I’ve ever had, I’ve been given a guide. A roadmap of how to climb the career ladder and what’s expected of me before I am promoted.

And, to be completely honest, that guide would sit untouched for 363 days a year. The two times I’d open it? When I needed to create my work plan for the upcoming year and when I needed to review how I had performed against said work plan.

That’s not to say those guides weren’t important. They were. They helped me to make sure I was getting promotions, raises, and generally progressing in my career. But there are two reasons not to rely on those guides to shape a career:

  • They disguise business opportunities as personal opportunities
  • They assume that you want to be on that very specific ladder

With people changing jobs every 3.1 years and only 29% of millennials reporting being engaged at work, relying on those guides or what will help you move up the ladder simply won’t work for a majority of the population. They may help to get your career progressing…for a while. But when you let those guides drive your career, you could end up feeling disengaged from your work and stuck looking down a career path that no longer excites or inspires you.

What are we to do instead? Seek out and create opportunities that put your interests first, rather than seeking out opportunities that put a guide for promotion first.

Looking for opportunities doesn’t necessarily mean adding more things to your plate. Yes, you can look for opportunities to advance, take on more projects that interest you or build skills that you currently don’t have. But you can also look for opportunities to transition away from tasks or projects that you don’t enjoy or look for opportunities to better create the right day and workflow for yourself.

They key is to seek out and create opportunities that benefit and interest you.

Even if you love your company and your career and feel like you can live by that little book that is laying out the career path plan for you, I encourage you to still take the time to reflect on seeking out and creating opportunities that start with you.

To do this, we’ll go through 4 steps:

1 – Self(ish) reflection

2 – Identify opportunities

3 – Script the critical moves

4 – Review & Advocate

Going through this exercise not only helps you get clear on what you want and how you’re going to get there, it makes it easier for you to ask and advocate for yourself. Knowing what it is you want is the best first step in actually asking for it.

Step 1: Self(ish) reflection

Start with a reflection. This isn’t a like your annual review that you do at work – there’s no need to try and think back on the things that you’ve done that have moved your company or team forward. This is the moment for you to sit back and reflect on what you’ve done for YOU. What’s working? What’s not?

Take the time to brainstorm and dig as deep as you can. Your answer to these questions will help you to decide what opportunities you want to pursue in the next step.

Questions to ask:

  1. What did I enjoy doing over the past 3 months (work and not work related)?
  2. What didn’t I enjoy doing over the past 3 months?
  3. Whose career are you slightly envious of? Why? (we won’t tell)
  4. In 3 months I want to wake up and have what be different? Walk through what that different day looks like (what are you working on and what does your schedule look like?)

Step 2: Identify Opportunities

Identify the opportunities you’d like to seek out or create for yourself over the next 3 months. While there may be big opportunities that you’d like to tackle that will take longer than 3 months, break down what the 3 month increment would look like.

There’s no set number of opportunities to identify – brainstorm as many as you like but then pare down the list to what you think is achievable over the next 12 weeks. Balance ambition with being realistic.

The opportunities could be related to your current job: “Create a lunch and learn on new trends in industry.”

The opportunities could be related to a future job path: “Interview people in HR at companies A, B, and C to see if that’s a path I want to consider.”

The opportunities could be in getting rid of something that you don’t like: “Stop sending the weekly sales shipment newsletters.”

The opportunities could be in making your work and life fit together better: “Eliminate weekend travel for work.”

Step 3: Script the critical moves

Have you ever had big ideas that you are enthusiastic about, but when you sit down to actually do them, you flounder a little bit, push things off for a while, or maybe opt to not do them at all? (Yep, me neither. Asking for a friend…)

Chip and Dan Heath sum this up in their book Switch:

“Ambiguity is the enemy. Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors. In short, to make a switch, you need to script the critical moves.”

If you actually want to act on one of the opportunities you’ve laid out above, first start by scripting some initial critical moves. Be specific and break down the process of achieving the end opportunity. Studies show that focusing on the process – these critical moves – rather than the end outcome, you’re more likely to achieve that end outcome and you’ll have less anxiety along the way. Win – win.

Make sure that your critical moves are as specific as possible – remember, ambiguity is the enemy here.

Step 4: Review & Request

Now that you have your fancy plan all polished and ready to go, go ahead and file that away in a folder and pull it back out on 1 day before the deadline so you can frantically try to accomplish the critical moves and get them crossed off your list. Cramming didn’t really work in college and it’s not really going to work here.

Make this list easily accessible and check in on it weekly. If you dread Monday morning, read it on Sunday night to remind yourself that there are things that are in your control and you can work towards opportunities that are good for you. Like to take stock of your week on Friday before happy hour? Add reviewing this into your routine.

When you review it you not only ensure that you can actually take consistent action on your critical moves, but you set yourself up to be much more aware of potential opportunities that you can advocate and ask for.
Whether you have wildly ambitious goals you want to pursue or you’re working on just getting unstuck, remember that this change won’t happen overnight. Focus on steady progress and in 3 months take a look back to see just how far you’ve come.

Want a little extra help putting this plan into action?

Don’t let the next 3 months pass you by. Look for the right opportunities…for you. 

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