This article by Michael Pollock was first published on forbes.com
As a smart, creative professional, you know all too well what it is to have a vision for your brand, product or movie. But do you have a vision for yourself? Do you have any idea how you want your own career to develop? What do you want to become — to do?
I work exclusively with people who define themselves as creative professionals. They are developing products, building businesses, strategizing marketing plans, creating advertising, or making movies, TV and content. They always — well, almost always — have a vision that they are working toward.
Absent this clear vision, how would they know what to do next? How would the teams working on the project be able to function effectively if there was no clearly expressed vision? What would “effective” even mean without a vision to measure against? Yes, there will always be some sort of challenge, and of course, the vision can evolve. But a vision is or should be fundamental to the successful progress of the work.
So what of your own career? Do you have a vision for that? I am amazed that so many creative professionals do not have a vision for themselves. Many have never even thought about it. Their progress has often been determined by others or by inertia, taking what comes along. Often, it’s driven by money. A nice raise coming with a new job? “Thank you,” they say. “This must be the right job for me.” I have done it myself on more than one occasion. But did it get me further along? Often not. Sure, it feels good to see that bump on your bank statement, but it doesn’t feel good going to the studio or the office each morning. If you are being “developed” by your employer, is it for something that you aspire to or for something that they need — their vision for themselves?
My proposal is that you should create a vision statement for yourself — a written statement that will point you in a desirable direction and get you excited about your prospects. But how do you go about it?
The first step is to acknowledge that having one might be a good idea. The second step is to look around at others you admire and decide there are elements of their progress that are worth copying. Or perhaps you realize you need to come up with your own unique ideas. At least get yourself started.
Examine your own work history, and identify what made you happy when you had a good flow or when you created something you were proud of. Identify what was good about those projects. What aspects worked for you? Try to figure out how you can use those as starting points. This isn’t just to replicate them but to project what excitements they might lead to.
Your very own vision statement will apply whether you are changing jobs or staying within an organization. It may be not so much about where you’ll be doing your job as about what you will be doing and who you will be doing it with. Just don’t fall into the trap that a promotion is necessarily what you want. Too often, that promotion leads to you having a completely different role as leader and manager, and you become one step removed from the work. So at least make a conscious choice so that you know what you are in for.
If you are doing great work, your employer will probably want to keep you rather than lose you. But if you have a vision of how you could do more of what you love within an organization rather than being pushed onto the management track, then you can pitch that and see whether they’ll bite. If you find yourself stymied by your current employer, then you’ll be glad that now you have a vision to inform your search for a more enlightened employer whose vision can dovetail nicely with yours.
Start working on it now. There’s no reason to put it off. And there is no template for this. Think about your passions and start writing them down. What work have you done that has made your heart beat faster? What work do you wish you’d done, or who do you wish you could be working with? What job or projects do you think would make you happy in a year or two?
You should refine your vision statement until it makes sense for you. This one is just for you; it won’t look like anyone else’s. There are no clients or managers to mess it up! Print it out and take a look at it each day. Let it inform your choices and help you make decisions. Ask yourself from time to time, “Am I doing what it takes to realize this vision?” A good, clear vision statement can prevent you from heading down the wrong path and being led up the wrong ladder to a dead end. As a U.S. president once said, it’s “the vision thing.”