What have you done for yourself lately? This is not a question about getting a massage or spending a weekend relaxing in the country. It is a question to jolt you into paying attention to your own professional development. With so much thought and energy rightly focused on the global financial crisis, focusing on oneself may seem like a luxury. But, stop to think about it: if you don’t do it, no one else will.
Maybe you have noticed that the urgent demands of the work force and the ailing economy have trampled over your desire to do something about your growth and job satisfaction. Or, maybe you are looking for your next opportunity and are wondering, “How do I get myself where I want to be?”
With layoffs coming right and left, and the economy sputtering along like a 14-year-old car you can’t afford to replace, people who are still employed are happy to be so. The future? It’s hard to see the farther than the next quarter’s results.
But you need to focused on working toward your log-term career goals, even at a time when so many immediate issues clamor for your attention.
Throughout history, people had little need to manage their careers. They were born into their stations in life or, in the recent past, they relied on their companies to chart their career paths. But times have drastically changed. Today we must all learn to manage ourselves.
What does that mean? It means we have to learn to develop ourselves. We have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution to our organizations and communities. And we have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a 50–year working life, which means knowing how and when to change the work we do.
It may seem obvious that people achieve results by doing what they are good at and by working in ways that fit their abilities. But very few people actually know, let alone take advantage of, their fundamental strengths.
We have to ask ourselves: what are my strengths? How do I perform? What are my values? Where do I belong? What should my contribution be? We cannot change ourselves. Instead, we should concentrate on improving the skills we have and accepting assignments that are tailored to our individual way of working. If we can do that, we can transform ourselves from an ordinary worker into an outstanding performer.
Successful careers are not planned out in advance. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they have asked themselves the right questions and have rigorously assessed their unique characteristics. We should challenge ourselves to take responsibility for managing our futures, both in and out of the office.