Creating Your Personal Career Vision

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In my previous post, I explained why it's important to create a "Personal Career Vision" before you leap into a job search. Once you've done that, it's time to stop the daily mad rush, reflect on where you've been and where you are now, and assess where it is you want to end up.

Step 1: Reflect

In our lives, we face certain turning points, where we feel compelled to evaluate our situation to see how it matches our expectations.

Career Starters (17 to 23 years old): Students and college graduates can easily get caught up in external sources of satisfaction. Their focus is on getting into the working world and being a productive, money-making adult. They're asking questions like "what job pays the most?" and "what industries are hot?" They should be asking "who am I?" and "what do I want from my career?"

Age 30 Assessment (25 to 33 years old): Maybe you jumped into a job right out of college. You worked like crazy. Now, you begin asking some predictable questions like, "what do I really want in life," "is this taking me in the right direction," "can I see myself doing this for my whole life," and "what else should I be doing?"

The Mid-Point (38 to 45 years old): Around 40, we might make an invisible turn as we realize half of our life has passed. We begin to wonder - really wonder - if what we're doing is worth doing. It becomes increasingly important to feel that what we're doing is meaningful.

Age 50 Assessment (50 to 55 years old): We focus even more on the time left to us, and realize pursuing a meaningful life is the only way to live. We begin to assess and integrate our experiences into a revised career vision, often deciding to make a last push to a career goal.

Pre-Retirement Transition (60 to 65 years old): For many, retirement feels without direction or purpose. In that case, the challenge is to find elements that add to our lives, compensating for the losses that begin to occur in work, relationships, and health. We have to focus on staying connected and feeling that we're making a contribution.

With all that said, ask yourself:

- What decisions did I make at my previous turning points?

- Did those decisions take me closer or farther away from my true nature and dreams?

- Which turning point am I at now, and am I making the right decisions?

STEP 2: Self-Assess

Address and integrate the answers to the following questions:

What is my CORE? Your core defines how you are hard-wired - your natural abilities and personal traits. Using these traits is required for a fulfilling work life. If your work makes it impossible for you to express these essential aspects of yourself, self-actualization will be just about impossible.

The best way to understand your core is through a "triangulation" of objective testing, reflection, and external validation.

- Objective Testing: Results from a sound interests/personality assessment can help you identify your role in life. For example, at work are you supposed to be a "creator" or a "doer?"

- Reflection: Look over your employment history and identify themes that run through the jobs you've loved and those you've hated. Does the objective testing help to explain why those themes exist?

- External Validation: What do others who know you well suggest are your greatest, natural talents?

What is my AMBITION? No Personal Career Vision can exist without getting intimately in touch with what you really want, now and in the future. Your ambition builds off of your core and paints a picture of your ideal destination. If you know where you want to go, you'll have a much easier time getting there.

Make a list on paper:

- What time do you want to start work? What do you want to wear to work? What organizational style do you find most compatible? What setting? Profit vs. non-profit? Summers off?

- What are your lifetime goals? Retiring early? Becoming a homeowner?

- Imagine being on your death bed. What are the things you must do or achieve in your life to feel satisfied? Becoming prominent in your field? Writing a book? Somehow making a difference in the world?

Then ask yourself, which of these are important enough to wait, create or fight for? Which of these will be a part of my Personal Career Vision?

What are my TRADEMARK ASSETS? Your assets make up your competitive advantage. They are your source of success and meaning as well as your greatest value to the world.

Think about:

- What are you really interested in? Do you look forward to reading the trade magazines for your job, or do you dread it? If you were stranded on a desert island and could get one magazine subscription (maybe delivered by a pelican?), what would that magazine be about?

- What gift (or gifts) do you have that you haven't fully acknowledged?

- What makes you more naturally suited to a profession than 95 percent of the population because you bring a unique passion, experience, or talent to the table?

- What do you know a lot about, or know a little about and want to know more about?

- What do you really love doing? Think about those tasks where time flies by and you don't even notice because you're in a state of "flow."

George Washington Carver said, "Where there is no vision, there is no hope." So take a moment, stop your work, take a look inside yourself, and outline your Personal Career Vision.

Steve Bohler is director and head career coach for the Oxford Program of Career Change.

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