While my coaching practice focuses primarily on leaders, I’ve helped a number of seasoned leaders figure out “what’s next” with regard to their careers. In doing this, I’ve observed one common trap that I think most people tend to fall into when planning their futures: they approach it from the wrong direction.
Almost to a person, people tend to think about their next career move based on where they are now and what they’ve done up until now. I understand it; there’s something to be said for leveraging our experience, and we usually think about jobs in terms of what we’re qualified to do.
My biggest tip to these clients: try planning in reverse. Instead of basing your next step on where you are now, dream about where you’d like to be in 10 years – then start building that bridge in reverse, figuring out what skills you’ll need to acquire between now and then to arrive at that destination.
Not with me yet? Imagine you’re on a trip. You don’t have a clear end destination and you’re driving somewhere in Ohio. When asked where you’re going next, you’ll probably look at your gas tank, figure out how tired you are, and then use that radius to determine a few destinations that are feasible. You can continue on traveling this way, but you’ll always have limits imposed on you – and you’ll end up somewhere defined by its proximity to Ohio.
If, conversely, someone asked you to dream big about where you’d like to end up someday, without thinking about the fact that you’re currently in Ohio, you might pick Italy. If you decide that Italy is your end destination, you stop thinking about your current radius and start thinking about other variables – like how you’ll get enough money for a flight, which airport you might want to fly out of, how you’ll learn to speak Italian, etc. It’s an entirely different approach and – let’s be honest – one that is probably a bit more energizing to undertake.
The same is true for your career – or life. If you’re not satisfied with the trajectory you’re currently on, why are you allowing it to define your options? Life is too short to limit your future to the path you chanced upon when you were in your early 20s. Why not dream big and let that guide you?