Recently, I've been putting in a little extra effort in determining what it is I want to do for the next few years. Normally, when I think of this, I come up with something very vague and general. Something like "I want to start my own business" or "I want to become an inventor" or something else equally ill defined. However, after chatting with some people, I came to the realization that a) I'm going to have to define what I want to do a little better if I want to get there anytime soon, and b) I can start moving towards my goals as soon as I decide to.
What does that even mean?
Well to me it means starting today and doing something, anything, to advance your goals. In this case, that’s your career. The key to this is being creative. I used to associate being creative with doing things that artists and designers do. I'd think that being creative was limited to those who created new ideas or products. Now, however, I've come to realize that being creative is a way of life.
This has been a really exciting realization for me, and I feel as though I've only begun to scratch the surface.
Enough abstract hand-wavy talk, let me put a concrete example down, one from my life. I enjoy my current position at work, but after a while I felt as though my progress in understanding my field and industry had stalled a little. I couldn’t see myself moving on to another position and bringing much more than I could a year ago. So I spoke with my manager and we came up with a plan on what I could do to move forward. That was many months ago. For a while, very little changed. The problem was that I wasn't really excited about the options that we came up with, even though they were the best either of us could think of at the time. In reality, they were ideas that seemed obvious as the next step, but since they were obvious, I had already subconsciously ruled them out. I would have already done them if I thought they would be particularly beneficial to either me or the company.
What wasn't obvious was looking outside of my role for inspiration. What wasn't obvious was to work even harder at what I was already doing and find any place within my current duties that I could recreate and add my own personal touch. What wasn't obvious was to include myself in more discussions to have a better understanding of the environment around me. Once I started being creative about where to push my energies, a world of new ideas and possibilities came to mind. In the past few weeks, I’ve been able to expand and recreate my role, all the while learning new concepts and cultivating new skills.
Even more recently, I've started to learn about my industry from outside sources. Being used to academic life, I guess I assumed that someone would tell me when to start reading the latest and greatest news and updates in my field. Wrong. Have to do that on my own. Learning about your industry allows you to have meaningful conversations with people at your workplace, and leads to learning even more information. You can then use this information to position yourself for either a promotion, a transfer, or even changing jobs or careers.
The hardest part for me has been not coasting. It's easy to coast. Don't. Now that you're making a decent living, things are going all right, and you're at least moderately happy with your job, it's easy to just take it easy. Be happy with what you have, of course, but now's the time to be hungry. Before family and other responsibilities take over your life, now is when you can spend the extra hour or two at work or take risks in moving to a different area completely.
Define where you want to be and move towards it. Remember, you don't need to know what you're going to do for the rest of your life, just what you want to do right now.