Designing an intentional career plan
Tips for designing your unique career journey.
Mary Olson-Menzel is the founder and CEO of MVP Executive Development and co-founder of Spark Insight Coaching.
In our coaching practice, we have found that intentionality is needed at all stages of your career, and at certain times it can become imperative as you are navigating the different stages of your career. Every move you make, from your first job to your retirement requires deliberate and intentional decision making at each inflection point in your career. Regardless of what stage you are in, thoughtful planning can help take you in the right direction.
Here are some of the key takeaways that I hope will be useful for you as you design what’s next for you on your own career journey.
Define “being intentional”: To me, being intentional means being very deliberate in your decision-making. Take a pause, and get honest with yourself and what you want out of the day, the month, the quarter, the year, and beyond. Ask yourself what is truly important to you and how you want to design your work life. Is there space for you to delegate so you can do the things that are most important to you?
At first, this exercise might feel overwhelming and that’s OK.
Take a deep breath and think about what it is that you want and what it is about the work that lights you up. Then you can start to make small daily decisions that steer you onto the desired path. When you practice checking in with yourself before you say yes or no to things, it becomes a habit, and over time, second nature.
At each career stage, what you want will look slightly different. The process of defining what you want is the same but the stakes, or what’s important to you, can be very different. Early in your career, you have different needs than when you are starting a family or devising your exit plan for retirement. You alone will know what is most important for you at each stage.
Why is now the right time to get more intentional about your career? In my opinion, now is always the best time. Why put off making decisions that will affect your life and your future for the better? The pandemic, the Great Resignation, layoffs, quiet quitting, quiet hiring – all are factors that are changing the way we look at our work. The past few years have taught us much about resilience, about ourselves, and how and where we can thrive in our work. The rules of work as we used to know them have changed greatly and even our geographical boundaries have shifted. With all of these shifts comes the opportunity to be more creative and intentional as we move forward.
There is no other time like the present. There is always an opportunity to start right now, today, to plan what your next career adventure will be, either at your own organization or somewhere else. Your career is in your hands and you have to take that responsibility and own it.
How can you discover or uncover your gifts/strengths? Many of us already have fairly good knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses. But it never hurts to take a deeper dive and rediscover what it is that truly lights us up. Also, you may be at a point where you have just been doing the same thing for so long that you want to re-discover what you love.
If you are unsure, I’d suggest starting a “light log” by writing down the daily activities that give you joy. Working with a coach to rediscover what makes us happy is a great option if you have the means.
But there is also a wonderful tool in the public domain called StrengthsFinders. You can order the book on Amazon or just go to Gallup.com and take the assessment for a small fee. It will identify your top five strengths and how you can develop and apply them to your work and personal life. If you need help, I am here for you, too.
Once you have identified your strengths and have begun paying attention to what it is that lights you up, you can start to create more opportunities for you to use these strengths in your day-to-day work. You can begin to look around for the things that will help elevate your natural gifts at your own organization.
There are more tools at your fingertips than you think. You just have to look for them. Most companies also have a learning and development team that can offer you specific programs within your own company or organization to take advantage of.
How do you balance following your purpose or your passion with your financial needs and goals? As I mentioned earlier, at each life stage the stakes are different and so is our need for achieving our highest earning potential. Purpose and passion matter, but so does your need to pay the bills. Truly, only you can discern when it may be right to take a pay cut to follow your dreams. Thus, it’s important to weigh out each choice carefully based on where you are in your life and what you need to not only survive but thrive.
Overall, when you are in touch with who you are and intentional about your career, it’s easier to identify and go for the jobs and situations that will light you up on a daily basis. When you know what you want from your career it becomes easier to design a life that checks most of the boxes that you need and want to make it fulfilling and fun.
Be intentional, create a plan and a strategy to get to where you want to be in life. And keep tweaking and adjusting as your needs and desires change. Be patient with yourself and the process as it unfolds. Life is a journey and when you follow your heart toward what it is that truly lights you up, you cannot go wrong. When you are intentional about your career and your future and make decisions based on truly knowing yourself, you are headed in the right direction. When you know who you are, what you bring to the table, and what you want, you can start to plan the course to where you want to go with greater clarity and conviction.