Today we continue our series on the book Own Your Career Own Your Life: Stop Drifting and Take Control of Your Future.
We’ve already covered What It Means to Own Your Career in this series, so if you missed it, you may want to go back and read it before reading this post.
I really like this book — it’s the best career-related book I’ve read in a long time — and despite many people’s tendencies to ignore working on their careers, I urge you to read along and apply what this book says. Doing so could earn you much more than you’d make otherwise and allow you to enjoy your job more.
I’ll be sharing key passages from the book as well as my thoughts on them.
Here we go…
Set A Vision
The book starts its official first chapter with the admonition to set a vision for your career as follows:
Do you know where you are going with your career? A lot of people don’t. But you would probably never get into your car or on a plane or even start walking unless you had an intended destination and knew exactly where you wanted to go. I bet for most of the smaller actions in your life, you have a goal or plan in mind. But for our careers, we often have no idea.
And that’s okay. I’m not here to preach to you that you must have a vision for your career. Early in their careers, many people have no idea what they want to do. But can you imagine how much better things would be if you did have a vision or goal? Because with an intended destination, you can start making a plan and having more confidence in your decisions and actions. And the cool thing about having that vision and plan is that nothing is ever set in stone. Unless you are signing a contract to join the military or law firm as a partner, you can almost always change your mind later.
This vision can look as far out as twenty years down the line or as close as one or two years. It does not have to be concrete. The point is to have an idea of where you want to go with your career and then use that to guide your decisions.
I agree with this mostly, but do have one disagreement.
I don’t agree with “and that’s okay.” It’s not ok. It may be the way things are for many (or even most) people, but it’s not “ok” and isn’t something that should be accepted as fine. It needs to be corrected as soon as possible IMO.
It’s like saying, “Most people spend more than they earn, and that’s okay.” No, it is not.
Let’s stop trying to be so nice and get to the point of helping people. That’s the one thing this book goes a bit overboard on — I feel like he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Hahahaha. You have to crack some eggs to make an omelet, Andy!!!
That said, the rest of this section is spot on IMO. Here are some things I especially like:
- “You would probably never get into your car or on a plane or even start walking unless you had an intended destination and knew exactly where you wanted to go. I bet for most of the smaller actions in your life, you have a goal or plan in mind. But for our careers, we often have no idea.” So very true. We plan out trips, vacations, even walks to the park. But heaven forbid we take any meaningful amount of time and think about bigger financial issues like our careers, retirement (where 5 hours of planning PER YEAR apparently sets you apart as way above average), investing and on and on. I guarantee if you ask most people what their vision for their career is they will either 1) admit they don’t have one or 2) make something up on the spot. Very little thought is given to career planning in my experience, even among those who you’d think would have this covered.
- “Because with an intended destination, you can start making a plan and having more confidence in your decisions and actions.” A vision for your career (and the corresponding plan you create from it) does not have to be fancy or detailed. In fact, just a general idea of where you want to go in your career is fine in my experience — you don’t have to have the next 30 years mapped out.
- “Nothing is ever set in stone.” And yes, you’re free to change your mind and adjust based on circumstances, new preferences, and a whole host of other things. Just like a budget is a plan for now which may change in the future, a career vision and plan are the same.
- “This vision can look as far out as twenty years down the line or as close as one or two years.” The farther away the time frame the more general the vision should be. When I first started working, my 20-year vision was to progress up the hierarchy to senior management. Very general indeed. But my two-year vision was much more concrete — build up experience in my field (marketing), get promoted to the next level, and increase my pay by 20-30%. Much more specific. My recommendation is that you must have a pretty firm/detailed vision for 2-3 years out, but anything longer than that can be fairly general.
- “It does not have to be concrete.” I don’t think it needs to be a 40-page document, but I do think it needs to be specific in the near term. I would also say it needs to be written out in some way — in a journal, as to-dos in your task list, or as a New Year’s resolution. Not that it has to be the Declaration of Independence. A simple sentence or two or a handful of tasks is enough to get you where you want to go in the next few years. I managed most of my progress through lists — first in writing with a Dayplanner and eventually electronic once that was an option (anyone remember the Palm Pilot?). I had tasks for job performance, networking, continuing education, and the like. We’ll talk more about those as this series progresses.
- “The point is to have an idea of where you want to go with your career and then use that to guide your decisions.” Without some sort of guide, how do you know what to do when something comes up? Maybe it’s a promotion…should you take it? Maybe it’s an offer from another company…should you take it? Maybe it’s the chance to go back to school to get a specific degree…should you go? If you have an idea of where you want to be, these sorts of decisions will be much easier.
The book talks more about this last issue in the next section…
A Vision Can Help Guide You
The book now moves to giving examples of how a vision can guide you as follows:
While not everyone has clarity on where they want to go or what they want to be when they grow up, it can be helpful. The biggest reason to have a vision or plan is that it helps guide important career decisions. Depending on how long you’ve been working, you have probably already experienced a few of these critical decisions. For example:
- Your company or boss offers you a promotion or a new job doing something different than what you’re doing now.
- Your boss tells you that you are not meeting expectations and won’t be getting the promotion you wanted.
- A friend invites you to come interview for a job at his or her company.
- A recruiter reaches out to you about a job you are qualified for.
- Your spouse or significant other gets a job offer in a new city.
- You have children or health issues that cause you to reconsider how much you are working.
- You have one too many bad days at the office and decide you want to make a change.
- There is a leadership change in your company, and your priorities or job description changes and becomes different from what you signed up for or are used to.
Most people don’t have any vision, plan, purpose, or values to help guide their decision just go with their gut (or more likely, what their boss or friends recommend). I know because I have been in a couple of these situations.
There is no right or wrong decision here. It comes down to personal values and preferences. But knowing our values and having a vision can help us make the best decisions. And we can always pivot and change later if things don’t work out.
These are some really good examples of how a vision (what you want to happen) and plan (the steps for making it happen) can guide your career.
If you have these, your career moves will be more intentional and on the path you want them to be regardless of what circumstances life throws at you.
I have had most of his examples above happen to me in my career. And because I had a vision that was a few years out, I was able to make the right decision.
Here are examples of the same thing happening but which worked out in different ways — guided by my career principles. I’ll take this example of his:
“There is a leadership change in your company, and your priorities or job description changes and becomes different from what you signed up for or are used to.”
In the first example, I was in my first job out of grad school. I had had three bosses in a year and by the time the fourth one got there I realized that this environment was not going to be one where I could accomplish what I wanted. So I looked for another job, got one I liked, and left for a better place (that advanced my career) that paid me 20% more or so. Not bad.
In the second example, we had a leadership change and I was moved to working for a guy I hated (who hated me). But the job was great as it was a lot more responsibility and a big step up — so it met my career criteria. I decide to stay since the job was so good and see what happened. It turned out my boss and I ended up liking each other a lot and I had some of my best early career success with this job, winning a national award that helped me land several higher level jobs in the coming years.
Without a general sense of where I wanted my career to go, I could have made different decisions which would have likely taken me on paths that didn’t work out as well as these did (you never know, but these worked out so well it’s hard to see how they could have been much better).
Whatever the situation, having an idea of what you want to do and accomplish will help you make the decisions that are best for you. And it’s so easy to do, so why not?
How to Set Your Vision
The book then takes some time on how to set your vision.
Here’s a highlight paragraph from this section:
Setting your vision does not need to be scientific or a long process. It just involves you pausing or reflecting on what you want to do or who you want to be. That means setting aside time with a pen and notebook and no distractions, and writing down what you enjoy about your current job or career and all the things you don’t like. Then write down the things that might be missing from your career that you might want. After that, write down some jobs (if any) that are attractive or intriguing to you that you might like to try.
If it’s hard to find the time to do this, do some of your thinking about it while you are doing other things like commuting to work, mowing the lawn, walking, exercising, before you fall asleep at night, in the shower, etc.
Think about the issue until you have a pretty good sense of what you want, then take the time to write it all down. This will go much smoother that way in my experience.
Old and New Habits
Next the book introduces a fun comparison box that we’ll see many times throughout it.
The box contrasts old habits many people have with the new habits we should have after reading this section.
Here’s what it lists for setting a career vision:
Old Habit: Living life in reaction mode and not ever thinking about where your career is going. Drifting with the wind and blindly doing what you’re told.
New Habit: Taking time on a weekly or daily basis to think about your career goals, where you want to go, how you want to get there, and whether you are making sufficient progress. You may want to go a step further and keep a journal (more on this later) to write down ideas, goals, and track progress.
This is a neat part of the book and a feature I’ll share a few times.
I completely agree with getting rid of the old habits of reaction mode, not thinking about your career, and drifting along. When you do these you leave your results up to chance, and who wants to do that with their most valuable financial asset (not to mention the place where they spend most of their time)?
As for the new habit, I agree you need to think about it and write down some specifics (as noted above). But I do not think it needs to be on a weekly basis and certainly not a daily one.
I think you can set your vision and then create a plan (with tasks that are added to your to-do list).
Then once a month, review your progress and make sure you’re on track.
I actually used to grade myself on the 4-5 items I had listed as to-dos — to make sure I was accomplishing what I wanted to.
Chapter Summary and Key Takeaways
The book also lists a summary for every chapter and I’ll be sharing parts of those as appropriate.
Here are the highlights for this one:
In this chapter, we discussed the importance and benefits of having a vision and knowing where you are going. Remember, you would not get into your car or start walking somewhere without a destination in mind. Pilots don’t start flying planes without a specific destination and a plan to get there. You may not know exactly where you want to go, but the more clarity you have, the easier it becomes to make career decisions along the way.
Set your vision by spending time writing down the things you enjoy doing, the goals you have for your career, your priorities and values, and where you might want to be or what you might want to be doing in five years. Check in with friends, colleagues, or family members that you trust and whose opinions you value to get their advice and feedback.
Remember that things will change, so don’t worry about being held to what you write down. You can always change it, and nobody is going to judge or grade you.
Finally, remember that nobody cares more about your career than you do and that you need to live your life for you and nobody else. It’s possible your parents may not like or agree with your career choices, but that’s okay. They have their careers or lives, and you have yours, and though you can and should remain grateful for all they have done for you, the fact remains that you do not owe them anything (gasp).
Now all that’s left to do is for you to create your own vision as noted. Put it down as something you will accomplish in the next few days!
For the next post in this series, see Own Your Career, Connecting to a Purpose, Getting Help, and Continuous Learning.