On my 40th birthday, I was thinking about the accomplishments of my life and career. Was it enough? Did I follow the right paths in life? I finished undergrad and law school. I was married to a really nice guy that my family and friends really liked. I had two wonderful children. Then I thought about my career. I expected and dreamed that my life’s work would be more than just this. No specific job or organization came to mind, but it seemed like my career was supposed to be more. I was driving home from my director-level job thinking about my children and wondering if they would someday have the very questions I have: “How do I know I am doing what I am supposed to be doing? And how do I know if I am doing what I am good at or best at?”
I have hated some of my jobs. One was at a great law firm with fantastic lawyers, many of whom I call dear friends to this day. The problem was I was NOT doing what I was good at.
I have hated some of my jobs. One was at a great law firm with fantastic lawyers, many of whom I call dear friends to this day. The problem was I was NOT doing what I was good at. Day after day, I sat in my office writing briefs. I would step into my office and this overwhelming feeling of dread would wash over me as I thought about writing yet another brief. I quit that job.
Rather than feeling afraid, I was relieved. I set out on a journey to understand who I was, what I was good at, and where my skills could best be applied. One of the most valuable lessons coming from that “place of personal torture” was learning how important it is to objectively identify what my strengths and opportunities were. I recognize today that the deep, dark, and dreaded feeling I had when going to that firm is precisely what makes me so passionate about helping others figure out what they want to do in their career.
How do you get started planning your career path? First, recognize where you are and where you want to be. Visualize yourself in 10 or 15 years. If your timeline to retirement is shorter, shorten that window.
How do you get started planning your career path? First, recognize where you are and where you want to be. Visualize yourself in 10 or 15 years. If your timeline to retirement is shorter, shorten that window. As you visualize this picture of your future self, note that you do not have to be specific– for example, an exact title, an identified company. Discipline yourself, however, to think through what field you are thinking of, what types of organizations you want to be a part of, and what you might be contributing. This exercise, done right, should make you feel joyful and relieved.
Next, write down the skills and experiences you have today and the skills and experiences you’ll need for your future role. Once you identify the gaps, you can start thinking through how to develop those skills and experiences.
Ten years is a long time from now. You may question if the exercise is worthwhile. How much will the world change in 10 years? What experiences will you fall into that may alter the direction you are thinking of today? These are all part of the exercise. The career pathing process is not static. You should look at this timeline and gap analysis at least once a year. Add to the list of skills and experiences every year. Assess your strengths and decide if they still accurately depict you. The most important thing is to be in control of what you can, know your strengths, and look for a role that aligns with them. Most likely, if you are enjoying your work, you are doing something you are really good at doing.
Some day in the future, when my children ask me, “How do I know if I am doing what I am supposed to be doing?” my answer will be, “If 3 out of 5 days a week you like going to work, you are probably doing what you are supposed to be doing.” When that number changes, it’s time to think about the career pathing exercise. Miaja Cassidy