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Wherever you are in your career, whether you are on track or just trucking along, it’s a good idea to take a moment to think about the journey so far. How did you get to where you are now? Was it by design? By accident? Through pivotal choices, random chance or unexpected life events?

Taking the wheel in your career journey - image of woman driving on open road

You may or may not have had much control over where you are right now for a whole host of reasons. Either way, that’s okay. Your journey can change direction at any point along the way, no matter how far along you have travelled a particular path. The key is being the one steering you in the direction you want to head. If you find there is no clearly marked road map to show you the way – instead you need to create your own.

Yes, sometimes you do have to go with the flow, and see where life takes you.  Often people settle for something that’s not even close to their dream job and choose options that work for now. But do you want that to be the pattern for your next 5, 10 or even 20 years?

The challenge is figuring out how to go from passenger to driver in the journey of your career. Here are some simple steps you can take to help you get behind the wheel.

1. Build self-awareness

Do a Warrant of Fitness check on yourself, or a MOT as they say in other parts of the world. Take some time to do a self review and build self-awareness. With self-awareness we are better able to notice the decisions we make, the reasons we make them and their impact on ourselves and those around us.

If you look back at your journey so far, can you pinpoint where along the way you made choices that led you here? Why did you make those choices? When were you most happy in your work?

This review will  give you a better understanding of your values, strengths, interests, skills and help clarify your aspirations. It will help build your career story.

The Wheel of Life  is a handy tool to check the balance in important areas of your life.  You can download a copy by clicking this link: wheel of life graphic

2. Get curious

It’s time to do some dreaming and scheming and find out what other opportunities exist.  There are many ways to research your options, but the best one is to discover people doing jobs that you’d love to do. Hunt them out and develop connections with people doing work that appeals to you.  Find opportunities to talk with them about their work. Offer to buy them a coffee. Be bold. People are usually very happy to share stories about their career pathway.

3. Focus

There’s a saying that it’s hard to drive forward if you keep looking in your rear-view mirror.  This view shows you where you’ve been, and an occasional check is helpful for reflecting. But at a certain point you have to look ahead to the future and clarify your focus.

Of course,  the view through the windshield is much broader than the rear view mirror, filled with many more possibilities. Finding your focus is not as simple as just following the road in front of you.

You may have an idea about where you want to be, but have you really drilled down to what you really want from work and your life? Most of us forget to look up from the day to day and focus on the road ahead and what it looks like.

It takes deliberate effort – the years do slip by quickly. Your late thirties or forties especially can be full on. It’s the rush hour of life, as Dutch Economist Lans Bovenberg called it in 2008, to describe the time when child-raising and professional responsibilities peak, and it’s a time when many people have elderly parents to care for too.

At some point, you must ask yourself where you really want to go and what you need to do get there. What do you want your future to look like? You’re the one in charge of making changes and moving forward to your future.

4. Get a MAP (Make an Action Plan)roadmap and keys - career journey metaphor

There’s plenty out there to keep us from thinking about the bigger picture, but having a plan will help you to stay focused on getting to where you want to be. Not only that, it will help you feel better about where you are now because you will be able to see it as a milestone on your journey.

As A recent survey by the Happiness Research Institute found, the top source of career contentment was ‘a sense of purpose’.

5.  Be deliberate

Those who seemingly stumble on good fortune have usually planned a long time in advance, and taken the necessary steps to get there. Be deliberate in what you do and seeking out who you might like to connect with. This is explored more deeply in a previous article called ‘Intentional Serendipity’ and how to make your own luck.

Make the most of your days and aim to do one thing every day that brings you closer to your goal. Be interested in what’s going on, widen your reading and your contacts. Get out and about and have different experiences. What ‘fuel’ do you need for your journey? What don’t you need ( e.g. barriers, negative influences or acquaintances)?

The first few steps are sometimes the hardest, but after that you will begin to move, and refuse to let life simply happen.

6. Be kind to yourself along the way

No journey is ever completed in a straight line. Life happens, we get tired, sick, frustrated, distracted. If you lose focus or things take a bad turn, it’s not the end of the world.

Blaming yourself, others, or the universe is not productive and will probably keep you from moving forward if you dwell on it. We’re all human. Cut yourself some slack and have compassion for others too. Learn from the experience if you can, and keep going, even if your destination has changed.

In the meantime, remember to look after your physical, mental and emotional health by eating well, getting rest and being around people who love you and who are cheering you on. Plan to have fun along the way. By being kind to yourself, you will be in a stronger position to manage what comes your way.

7. Look for travel companionsVW van - find travel companions on your career journey

Just because it is your journey, doesn’t mean you have to take it alone. There are people along the way who will join you for some of the way. Some will be there to provide guidance, encouragement or inspiration at a pivotal point, while others will be there when you need their expertise, providing key resources or professional services.

Once you find your driving force and have control of the wheel in your career journey, with the right fuel, focus and friends to help you, there’s no limit to what you can achieve!

Sue Graham is a qualified career counsellor and independent career consultant based in Dunedin. Contact Sue if you feel you need some help in defining your journey or coming up with the right roadmap to get there