Stop winging your career decisions! Here’s how

What now?

It’s a common question right now.

Whether laid off, disillusioned or just ready for change, many people are wondering if it’s time for a career shakeup.  That includes in my own field of health care, but it’s happening in many other professions.  You may be wrestling with this question, too.  It’s natural at times of upheaval, but it also occurs with the changing seasons of our lives.

The truth is, even before the pandemic upended nearly every norm we know, the career models our parents and grandparents followed were starting to look like relics.  Gone are the days when we all marched up the career ladder, one prescribed rung at a time.  And now more than ever, a five-year, 10-year, 20-year career plan is likely to look dated before the ink dries (assuming a quaint, handwritten plan, that is).

A better model for today is one I have used and refined in my work with clients for years.  It ebbs and flows with them and the realities of their lives.  It’s also about intentionality.  It’s about making a move when it’s right for you and the people who matter to you, and in a way that serves your goals. Whatever they are.

This model is called Proactive Career Planning, and it’s useful for life and work at any stage.  But it’s especially helpful for mapping an emerging career.  The sooner you begin making your decisions with intentionality and in alignment with the things that are most important to you, the more likely you will develop a career that is both fruitful in the ways you care about and deeply satisfying.

Making a proactive career plan

Here’s Proactive Career Planning in a nutshell:

A process of knowing yourself, your current environment and the opportunities around you in a way that lets you make informed and well-considered decisions about your career in any given moment, no matter the circumstances or choice before you.

Things change and the world changes. So, we need a process for decision-making that’s grounded in our core values to navigate those changes.  My process starts with a set of Hip Pocket Questions.  In my coaching engagements, the answers to these questions become touchstones for our work.  On your own, they are a great self-assessment for diagnosing misalignment in your life – misalignment that often will help you see where you need to go next.

  1. What matters most to you?
  2. Who are your stakeholders at home and work, and what matters most to them?
  3. What matters in your organization?
  4. Are there any misalignments among your answers to the first three questions?
  5. What are you ready, willing and able to do about any misalignments you have noticed?

You should examine these questions at least once a year.  I recommend clients pick a day they are likely to remember, such as a birthday.  The Hip Pocket Questions should also be revisited any time life throws a curveball your way.  This could be a promotion or downsizing, an illness in the family, or anything that shifts your perspective on work and life.  The answers will help determine your best next step, and they will also help you map the horizon.  You can even use them to think about a five-year plan, as long as you recognize that plan may have to change as the world does and as your answers to these questions evolve.

An intentional career from the start

If you are fresh out of school and hungry to build a career, this might sound like a lot of talk when what you want to do is move.  However – life will throw curveballs your way, and if you don’t bring intentionality to your career plan, you may find yourself well up your career ladder before realizing it is leaning against the wrong wall.  These questions will help you build a career that makes sense for you and the circumstances of your life, but they will also lead you to a career that gives you the creative time, the family time, the whatever-you-want time to focus on what matters most to you.

And then, when those curveballs come, you will know you can be in charge of your career even when it feels like you don’t have any choices.  There is always a choice.

It’s more than a career

If you’re thinking about the question “what matters most to you?” … you might be thinking, “I know what matters most to me, but it’s not really about my career.”  But it is — even if your answer is something like “my family.”  A dear friend, colleague and mentor once told me:

Personal and professional it’s all one life.  You have a finite amount of life energy, and it’s up to you what you do with it.

Understanding what matters most to you and those around you will help you manage that integration of personal and professional, while ensuring the professional decisions you make align with your personal values.  Because that’s the real goal here.  Building a work life that works for you and giving you a guidebook to navigate its continued evolution in an intentional way that will serve your goals.

On the horizon

If you like this approach, you’re going to love the workbook we will be sharing in a couple weeks.  Sign up to be a part of the Metta Solutions Community, and watch our blog space for a chance to download a set of tools to start the process of Proactive Career Planning for yourself!

Last updated October 19, 2020

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Seven stages of a professional career — a Life Course approach

The mid-career transition — navigating your own course

3 predictions for the future of work in health care