You’re always assessing your career situation, right? You yourself are changing and growing, and despite your best hopes, history does not always move forward to a “more perfect” future.
So what are you thinking? Will you decide to stay with your current employer and make the best of it, or have you been thinking about moving on to fresh pastures? It’s highly likely that you’re not sure what to do and have let career inertia set in.
To get your career-plan juices flowing, here are four possible options you might be mulling over — each with some questions for you to think about. I suggest that you consider them all, at least for a moment, and let this be fresh motivation toward your next chapter.
Option 1: You’ll find a new job in the next 12 months.
Perhaps you feel you’ve come as far as you can where you are and it’s time to look for something new. You’ve acquired new skills and have some victories to crow about. You’ve followed what’s going on in your industry and know where you might find a new berth.
But what do you hope to achieve? Are you looking to do essentially the same thing but get paid more for it? Or are you looking for something completely different?
Do you want more control over your own work, better projects and smarter clients? Are you ready to manage a larger team and put your own special stamp on the creative product that results?
Think these things through and have a point of view as you explore. Be clear in your own mind what it is that you hope to achieve, both for yourself and for the hiring manager.
Option 2: You’ll stay where you are and adapt your situation to serve you better.
I could have made this the first option, but I put it second so that the more radical new gig option would jolt you out of any complacency in your current spot at the firm you love.
Even if you think you are content with the assignments you have and the pecking order you work in, this status quo will probably not last long. Someone will move on. A client will change. Tastes will evolve and technology will make another leap.
So you’d better be actively plotting your next move within the company. Try and figure out how your company will restructure itself. They always do. Be proactive. Do what you can to influence that re-org in such a way that it will work for you.
Will you be aiming at more control, a bigger team? Or are you more interested in getting a better quality of projects to work on? Look for the ones that will stretch you, the ones you’ll be proud of, and be aware of how they’ll look in your portfolio when you’re considering that new job.
Option 3: You’ll start your own business.
If you’re a creative pro working in a corporate environment, this one probably has been a lead feature in your middle-of-the-night thinking. It is well worth spending some time picturing what it would be like.
There are a bunch of key components to consider as you see if it makes sense for you. What will be the core offering? Are you the talent who creates, or the manager who builds and runs things? Could you do both?
Starting up is not just about finding a nice workspace and designing a logo. You should talk to others who have made the leap and learn from their mistakes — or at least be prepared for the challenges.
Who will be your first and second clients and how will they be persuaded to plunk down their money in exchange for whatever you have to offer? This is usually the hardest part. Can you bring some clients along with you when you start? Can you depend on their “guarantees” of business? Will you be in infringement of some clause in your prior employment contract?
For most creative pros who work in corporations, the marketing/biz dev part has been hidden away from them. Suddenly, in your own shop, its value becomes blindingly apparent.
Most of all, you have to really want this. A lot. Because it won’t be a walk in the park. But if you get it right, and the world is excited by your presence, it can be the most rewarding situation imaginable.
Option 4: You’ll do what it takes to get back to doing what you really love.
This is an option that comes up often with the creative pros I work with. More often than not, they look back at what got them excited in the first place and wonder why they aren’t really doing that thing anymore. As I said, things change. The money you’re paid is coming because of your value to someone else; you do good work for the fickle client and in comes the money. And when that money comes in, you start telling yourself that now you are happy.
If the work is making you miserable but you are trapped by the paycheck, ask yourself if there is another way. (Or will it be just fine if you turn to drink and your hair falls out?)
So what was that thing you loved and how can you recapture it? There are more and less scary ways to start moving back to a place of satisfaction. Revisit Options 1–3 with this in mind.
Always be thinking about what the next 12 months might hold for you. Don’t just wait for it to happen — know what you’d like to see. Make your own luck. Be ready to recognize the good opportunity when it comes around. Otherwise, you may get left behind or swept off on a course that will take you somewhere that won’t make you happy in the long run.
This article by Michael Pollock first appeared on forbes.com