Are you ready to take your game to a higher level at work? That’s an exciting feeling, isn’t it? Yet it can be overwhelming too. You have the itch to grow professionally, but nagging doubts can stop you before you even start: What should I do first? How will I find the time? Is it worth the effort?
Here’s a great “thinking exercise” that can help you bring your work experience into focus so you will be better able to see the progression of your career journey. Invest 30 minutes of quiet time in yourself and you’ll have a starting point for making that change.
The Three Points-in-Time Career Reflection Exercise
1. Grab a blank piece of paper and a pencil.
2. Draw a horizontal line across the middle of the paper.
3. In the middle of the paper write the word “Now”. This represents where you are today in your career.
4. Think back in time – to the time when you were new in your career. On the left hand side of the line you drew, write the word “X years ago”. (“X” = how long ago this time period was for you as compared to today).
5. Next, write underneath the space marked “Now” a list of things that you know now that you didn’t know X years ago. Think of this list as both a “lessons learned” and “skills I have mastered”.
6. Review the list of your current career state (your “Now”). Celebrate – look at how long that list is! You have accomplished a lot. (If your list is puny, you aren’t giving yourself enough credit. Go back and think about your lessons learned and the many skills you possess.
7. The next step is to imagine the future. Look five – ten years into the future. Write the words “This is me X years in the future” on the right-hand side of the paper. (“X” = the number of years into the future you are forecasting.
8. Make a list of accomplishments and attributes you would like to have developed. Your list might look like this:
Now, this is the fun part –
9. Imagine that you have already achieved the accomplishments and developed those attributes. Go on, “try it on” for size. Pretend it’s a Halloween costume that you’ve been dying to wear. If you don’t like it, you aren’t married to it. As Whitney Johnson, author of Dare, Dream, Do likes to say, “Go on and date your dreams. There’s a no commitment clause.”
10. Can you envision yourself as this next “iteration” of you? Maybe the image is fuzzy. Maybe it seems preposterous. That’s OK! Just grab hold of whatever image comes to mind.
11. Live with this feeling for a moment. How does it feel?
12. Make a list of the reactions and emotions you had. Include both positive and negative emotions. Review this list and circle the one positive reaction/emotion that most resonates with you. Write this word on a sticky note or an index card.
13. Now, write down one easy, simple task you can do to move yourself towards the goal of achieving your “This is me in X years”. The task should feel like a tiny bit of a stretch, but not overwhelming. Examples: “spend 30 minutes researching XYZ” or “Ask my friend Taylor about training programs in this area.”
14. If you feel resistance, haul out your sticky note/card. Remind yourself of the positive feelings you’ll get when you move towards your next career goal.
15. When you finish the task identified in step 13, identify another task and repeat steps 1 – 13.
How Does This Exercise Help My Career?
By breaking your “big picture” career goal into easy-to-manage bites, it feels less overwhelming. And, by staying focused on the positive benefit you’ll feel (your sticky note), you’ll be more likely to persevere.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” Randy Pausch
If you are tired of being in the same place or have visions of something much greater, then it is up to you to seek the change and design the career you want. Using these exercises may cause some deeper introspection enabling you to take the next steps toward your career goals. You can do it! If the dream is there, your steps and sticky notes are right here.