Traveling Without a Map

contributed by Dr. Stephen Bangert

Although many people travel a serendipitous career path, today the stakes are too high to wager your career on chance.

Recently I was visiting with a friend who looked blurry eyed explaining triumphantly he had just spent three and a half hours on the Internet perfecting his family’s summer vacation. He had found some cheap flights for some of the family and coordinated using frequent flyer miles for others. With some coupons and special promotions he secured a luxury car, checked out his travel routes and identified points of interests along the way, including a site proclaiming the largest ball of string. (It is over six foot in diameter, just in case you are curious.) Oh yes, he also booked lodging that had a clean bed and running water for under a $100 dollars per night.

Frankly, I was exhausted just listening to what all he had accomplished. It seemed like a lot of work to have a little fun. I mentally reminisced about the carefree travels in John Steinbeck’s novel, Travels with Charlie.

I remembered too a mental footnote from some time ago about people spending more time planning their vacations, then planning and managing their careers. I’m frequently reminded of this in my professional work with executives, managers and professionals, many of whom have been very successful but agree they did little to manage their career.

So I mused, maybe there’s an argument for a serendipitous career like the meanderings of Steinbeck’s characters. Then I paused and thought differently. Such an approach is increasingly dangerous in today’s marketplace.

Yes, the careers of most of my clients have turned out pretty good, although many of them admit that they could have avoided mistakes, roadblocks and detours with a little forethought and planning. When dealing with one’s career, the risks are too great to travel without a map. Where do you want to be a few miles down the road? At the midpoint of your career? At the pentacle of your career?

So how do you map out you career? It starts with setting goals. What are your destinations?

Like travel across our nation, there are many routes that you might follow. With your career there are probably some traditional paths, but seldom is there just a single path that must be followed. Do some research on traditional paths but also review the resumes of others who have reached the destinations you have set for yourself. Read in books and magazines about those who have successfully reached goals that are the same or similar to yours.

And what about your vehicle for traveling to your destinations? What means will get you there?

The primary vehicle for moving ahead is your past accomplishments.

Also give thought to your ideal job and the many factors that comprise it. This will be your focus as you conduct your job search. Does the job that you are interviewing for allow you to fully utilize your skills and talents and express your style and personality? Is it an opportunity that holds challenge and excitement in both the immediate and distant future? What about other job demands such long hours, travel, relocation? As you compare a job opportunity against criteria you have set for yourself you can objectively determine how close you are to your destination.

In your life, in your career, others can set goals for you but only you can determine your true destination. There are many roads, many vehicles and many fuels. And you have the freedom to choose, and the satisfaction of mapping your course.

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