Get Ahead in Your Career by Systematically Achieving Your Goals

Phil Busch

You may look around your professional life and notice many different things you'd like to try. You may be interested in being a thought leader at work, working with a specific technology, learning to mentor others, or even becoming a popular conference speaker. You likely see others doing these things, and they may have job titles that include the words "senior," "chief," "lead," or "consultant." How do you get from here to where you want to be?

Understand where you are today

The first step to getting ahead is to know where you're starting. Take stock of the attributes and skills you have today. Pick four or five things that describe your current state. Don't overthink it - just jot down what comes to mind. Here's an example of what this list could look like, though yours may be very different based on your experiences:

  • Three years of development experience
  • Backend focused (.NET)
  • Promoted once at one employer to Software Developer II
  • On a four-person development team in an organization with nine development teams

Identify the things you would like to do

The next step is to identify where you'd like to be. Think about yourself five years from now. What does success look like for you? Make another list with a few aspects of where you'd like to be. You may be shooting for a certain type of work, job title, income, company type (startup vs. big company), etc. That should be on this list.

As you make this list, it is important to remember that many influencers around you are attempting to define what success looks like. Your employer likely has career paths they want employees to follow. Your peers in your professional network likely are talking to you about what they think is important. It is good to take the thoughts of others and your employer as inputs into this decision, but ultimately you should define what success looks like for yourself. Only you can decide where you should go next in your career.

Getting from A to B

There is no formula for achieving the goals you put down on your list. As the starting place and goals will be different for everyone, we each as individuals will need to figure out our way to get to where we'd like to go. There are a few things that I have found work well, however.

First of all, you must actively attempt to make progress towards your goals. Active, intentional doing of work that puts you closer is key. Even if your goals are closely aligned with a career path provided by your employer, you won't just get there by punching the clock. You need to make attempts to stretch what you're doing daily into the things on your list of where you want to be. For example, if you are a backend developer looking to become full-stack, you could start a side project to learn about a frontend framework. Or, if there are frontend developers at your job, you could ask if you could have lunch or pair with them for an afternoon.

As you take steps that help you work towards where you want to be, you'll want to develop a system of inspecting and adapting to change as you learn from new experiences. Sitting down once every quarter or month and reflecting on what you've learned is important. You may want to keep a journal or collection of notes from the experiences you have so that you can refer back to them. Think about what you liked about the experiences, what you disliked, and if you'd want to change something. If there was a goal that you have discovered you don't value achieving, you can always replace it with a new one at this time.

As you enact this system and start to keep track of your progress, you don't want to keep it to yourself. No one succeeds in a vacuum. You will likely need to bounce ideas off of others from your learnings. Additionally, if your goals involve a different role than the one you work in now, you will need the help of others to move into that role. Don't be afraid to share your progress with your manager, your peers, or recruiters that can help you get where you want to be. Without sharing your progress with the right people, you will eventually be limited.

As you talk to those that you know can help you get that next job, don't be afraid to expand your conversations to those others that may not be able to open the door. Share your learnings with your network. If you happen to tell a former co-worker over coffee that you're learning a new skill, you never know what could come of that. They may know about an opportunity that you'd be interested in. There is a chance they may be trying to improve as well on that skill, and you can exchange knowledge.

Time to start

Since you now understand where you are starting and where you'd like to go, it is time to start the journey. You're going to make mistakes along the way - embrace them! If you start working on growing yourself today and put the regular effort in, you'll have made progress towards your goals in no time.

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