Are You Designing Your Own Career, Or Is Someone Else Controlling It?

This article by Michael Pollock first appeared on

If you’re not always thinking about what should be next for you in your career — and what might be next after that — you may well find your working life following a trajectory that is not of your own choosing. This can easily become the norm as you are all tied up in the day-to-day of keeping your current projects on track. You have to do this, of course, but why not make some time every week or every month to see where you could be headed, where you should be headed and where you want to be headed?

If you don’t plan ahead, you may simply stagnate, losing all forward momentum; and all too often, stagnation leads to the exit. Alternatively, you may find yourself promoted to a leadership position you don’t really want, but you take it on because you feel you are owed it. That promotion could effectively remove you from actually doing the work you love; instead, you find yourself responsible for a troublesome or under-resourced team, and that can lead to sleepless nights for you and perhaps even sub-par work being generated while you are in endless personnel meetings with HR.

Another thing that could happen (because you’re a superstar, as you know) is that you get recruited and flown all over to be interviewed for some other job. But wait. Yes, it’s flattering and, yes, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to scope the gig and meet some new people — but is this for a job you actually want? Is it for a company you would be proud and happy to work for? Do you have any idea what you would be getting yourself into?

Here I’ve just outlined several possible scenarios that should be motivators for you to have a point of view ready to go when the moment arises. What if you already know where you want to be headed so you can spin each opportunity to your own advantage? What if, when you are offered the promotion or interview, you know whether it would be a good thing and, if so, whether you are ready to define your role in it and the resources you’ll need. Be aware that the agendas of those around you are not necessarily working towards your long-term interests, and try to influence events so that they can support your dreams. Your thinking can make the change work for your better future, not just theirs.
Getting your goals and next steps sorted out and up-to-date are key parts of what you should be doing at your regular check-ins with yourself. As you do this, you should be constantly refreshing both your public profile and your portfolio so that they reflect not only your best work, but work that also indicates the direction you want to be taking.

If you find yourself being recruited for less-than-thrilling positions, is this because your LinkedIn profile or resumé frames you for just that thing? Are you presenting a personal value statement that will get you where you want to go? Or are you just saying, “here’s what I’m doing now,” so then you’ll get another job doing just the same thing and not advancing?

Part of the trick to a successful personal presentation is to make it super easy for a reader to get right off the bat what it is you’ve achieved and what you offer. This should happen quickly. Don’t make them work for it. I’m telling you this because your leading story needs to be an easy-to-grasp statement that touts your specific successes and shows how you can be valuable in…well, you should certainly use more than 140 characters, but don’t spin it out!

Okay, you get that. But that’s not all. Informed now by your up-to-date goals, you can be figuring out better ways to take advantage of the position you have right now, of the current projects that you are deep into and the next ones on the board. Should you be more focused on strategy than you have been? Pushing harder for better quality? Practicing more or better leadership? Make some choices and point yourself towards the projects that will excite you and can be presented to show clearly that this is where you are headed.

In general, not advancing is not a good thing. You should be moving forward and doing so in the manner of your own choosing. This could come from your leadership ability, the scope of your projects, or the style and quality of your work. But it should be your call — you’re in charge.

So, though I repeat myself, put the effort into considering what you want so you don’t get swept along to satisfy some agendas that are not your own. Make sure that you are working on, and constantly refreshing, your own agenda for your own career.