Two sensible paths for your next career step


Pay-off: Get clear on which of 2 paths you should take for your next career step

Investment: 5 minutes

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Are you taking charge of your career? Or is it taking charge of you? (If it’s not one, it’s the other).

You might want to pause and get clear on that. Even if your career appears to be going well (when you sit in daily rush hour traffic at least you’re in your dream car), you should have a sense of whether you are steering your daily work in directions that you want, or whether you are reacting to what your career (or business or employer) expects of you.

Where next?

If you’re interested in steering it, then what’s your next chosen destination? And how are you planning on getting there?

Whoever you are, you essentially have a choice of two paths to head down that are both worth considering.

The first path

The first path is a worthwhile shortcut, and only an option if you know what destination or position you are striving for.

The second path

The second path is a longer but attractive option whether you know your destination or not.

Actually, there’s a third path. It’s the one you’re probably heading down if you don’t take either of the others. The only problem is you have no idea where it goes. It just meanders, twists and turns usually to somewhere stagnant.

Right now, because you’re reading this, I’m reminding you that you have a choice of picking one of the other two. You could use this opportunity to make your decision.

The shortest path to your chosen destination

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If you know your destination, you might want to consider the straight line approach to getting there.

One way is to determine what you’d need to do, and who you’d need to become in order to get in to your desired position. How does the ideal person for that role consistently ‘play’ at that level?

You’d need to find out what these things are. You could arrange some exploratory conversations with the right people to find out. Then you’d need to demonstrate certain behaviours and produce certain deliverables. Get that right, and those you serve (employers, colleagues, customers) will get value from your efforts, and you will get value and rewards in return.

You’d need to prove that you can produce those now in order to win others over to get into that position, even though right now it’s not your current job.

But it is your job

If you’re thinking that behaving or producing outputs at the level you’re striving to reach isn’t ‘your job’ (or if you have a “but that’s not my job” mentality in general), you’ll struggle.

In fact, I’d suggest that it is your job to remain strong and relevant in your career. It is your job to think about performing at the next level.

It might not be in your job description, but perhaps it should be. (What if employers added to job descriptions the following line: “As circumstances quickly shift around you in your role, you will strengthen your value and your position to remain not just relevant but competitive.”)

So, consider how you should behave and what you must deliver and ask yourself, “how close can I get to doing that?” and “how much closer can I get than the next person?” (Remember the story of the two guys running from the lion, one who points out that he doesn’t need to run faster than the lion, he just needs to run faster than the other guy.)

Act as if

The fastest and perhaps simplest way to take advantage of ‘the straight line approach’ is to ‘act as if’. Eliminate the transition process by just simply behaving differently. It’s the fastest way to experience new results and develop new habits.

Just determine who the ideal person is in the role or position you’re striving for, and start acting like them right now. Do what they’d do, think how they’d think and say what they’d say (whilst also delivering on your current priorities). Set up a structure that gets you to do this repeatedly. Then keep track of, and promote to the right people your wins and successes.

There are obviously limitations and risks to this approach, but if you purposefully organise yourself to do this, in less time than you think, you’ll arrive at your destination.

The second (more organic) path to your destination

If you haven’t chosen your desired destination yet (or feel you can’t) then you could use this path. Or, if you want to arrive at your chosen destination in a more organic way. Most people take this path (whether they choose to or not).

The second path isn’t straight. It’s more of a zig-zag and is analogous to tacking when sailing. In fact, I call it ‘career tacking’.

Career tacking towards your destination

If you know your approximate destination, you could plan a series of fairly easily achievable but indirect paths that would take you closer.

Or you could just plan the first of those paths, head down it, and plan your next path when you reach the next milestone (more on this here).

You could determine your ‘destination’ (perhaps a goal, a career position, landing a certain project or client).

Then decide where you are in relation to that and what strengths and assets you have that you could leverage to help you get there.

And then you could jot down some potential milestones or subgoals to ‘tack’ towards. You don’t have to use the straight line approach (although you could).

What one new ‘thing’ (achievement, skill, accolade, relationship) could you get under your belt that would make the biggest difference? What next career step would help you acquire the skills and behaviours and become the right sort of person to move forwards from there?

You might want to determine what next career move would put you in the very best position 6-24 months from now.

Back in 2003 when I wanted to set up a business but had no idea about selling, I purposefully stepped into a financial recruitment role first with the sole intention of learning how to sell.

(Incidentally, they taught me some aggressive sales techniques that I wouldn’t use if you paid me (which as it happens was exactly what they were hoping for 😐 ). So I didn’t earn much. But I left after 6 months by reversing most of what they told me and doing the opposite (being helpful, non-pushy, seeking to understand my clients).

Mission accomplished.

A good example in my own life of ‘career tacking’ (and of course I now earn a living helping other non-sales people to learn how to sell in a professional and comfortable manner. Click here if you or your team want help with that.)

Career tacking in hope of finding your destination

If you’re unclear on what career position you’d like to be in, you could just tack along a path that currently makes sense to you, with the intention of strengthening your position.

But it’s probably still worth deciding on a checkpoint – a milestone, where you ask yourself where you’re heading again and why. If your career moves aren’t purposeful, you’ll probably find that your environment shapes you and puts you in plenty of situations where you have to keep reacting. That’s ok if it suits you. But you’ll probably find it suits you until it doesn’t suit you. Then you get your finger out and start pointing it at others and blaming them. I see that a lot, unfortunately.

But it’s your choice.

So, to wrap up here, where exactly are you planning on heading? And why?

Where are you at? And what highest-impact asset do you have to help you?

What highest-impact asset could you acquire and ‘career tack’ towards?

Pick one, make a simple plan (that can’t fail – see this) and consider trying a ‘straight-line’ approach to getting there. Doing something towards that today is a good idea too. If you decide to put it off, let’s get real, you’re probably not going to make it to that destination. You know that.

Good luck


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Related posts you might find useful

If you liked this post and feel that you need to ‘shake things up’ a bit in your career, these posts should help:

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If you want help creating a plan that can’t fail:

The art of building a plan that can’t fail

If you’re not convinced that you need to grow and develop, read this:

2 tricks to strengthen your career position

If you’re exploring picking a new challenge, consider this:

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If you’re unclear about what to learn that’ll make the most impact on your career and life, try these:

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And ensure you sign up to my weekly posts here, as a consistent, spaced, drip-fed, compounding approach (that’s free) to shift your mindset and grow your skill set. That’s here.

If you feel under-valued, explore this (and the infographic):

How to maximise, prove and know your value

And finally, if you have any questions, comments or want more help, either use the comments below and I’ll reply, or give me a shout here. Thanks.


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