The start of a new year is the perfect time to check in with yourself, define your goals for the next twelve months, and determine what steps can take you there. That said, you can decide to be intentional about your career at any time of the year. Whether you’re unhappy in your current role, frustrated with a lack of growth, or just looking for something new, now is the time to find a career you’re passionate about and make your dream a reality.
Unfortunately, change is easy to talk about but hard to materialize. To help, we interviewed acclaimed venture capitalist and investor, Michael Dearing, to get his advice on how we can unlock greater purpose in our work by owning our career plan and development.
The secret to success, according to Dearing? In order to transform your career, you need only take these three simple steps:
- Define your goal
- Perform a self-assessment
- Make a prescription plan
Here’s a closer look at what each of these steps means and how you can use them to transform your career and find a job you love:
1. Define Your Goal
To find a career that emotionally fulfills you, you must start by defining your values and want to achieve in your personal or professional life – or your “heart’s desire,” as Dearing calls it. These goals are unique to you and can’t be defined by anyone other than yourself.
Your first step to finding a fulfilling career is to write down what you want. Now, we’re not talking about what you want out of a job here, we’re talking about what you want to get out of a career. This is important as it will guide the next two steps.
Need some inspiration? Here are some examples of other peoples’ heart’s desires you can use to guide the creation of your own:
- I want to make enough money to retire early
- I want to have the financial freedom to pursue my art
- I want to be able to give my kids a great education
- I want to be my own boss and run my own company someday
- I want to be a leading expert in my field
- I want to be the first person my boss with a challenging new project
Lastly, just know that your heart’s desire will grow and change as you do – and that’s normal. Think about it, what you wanted when you first started your first job compared to now is probably dramatically different based on your past experience, growing knowledge and skills, and even your stage of life. “Your heart’s desire may evolve over time. There’s no rule that says you can’t change it as you learn more or change your point of view,” says Dearing. “What’s really important is stating it clearly and putting it down on paper. It’s really shocking how few people are in touch with what they want out of their lives.”
Still, writing your heart’s desire down today is an important step towards change. It will act as your North Star to transform your career and keep you focused and motivated as you work towards finding your dream role. Of course, you can revisit and revise it as often as you need to ensure it matches your most current goals.
2. Perform a Self-Assessment
Once you’ve identified your heart’s desire, it’s time to perform a self-assessment and get one step closer to transforming your career. This self-assessment framework, developed by Andrew Grove, requires you to identify your signature strengths and challenges (or weaknesses) then determine how you can use these skills and improve your areas of improvement to unlock the next level of your career.
Now, you might be thinking, “I already know my strengths and weaknesses and can just skip ahead to step 3,” but we urge you not to skip this step. Taking the time to map out everything you bring to the table is key to understanding your most marketable characteristics and where you need to invest more in your skills.
To start your assessment, answer the question, “What are my unique strengths?” and make a list of everything you can think of.
Examples of signature strengths:
- Subject matter expertise
- Strong communication skills
- Industry experience
- Managerial and leadership skills
“A signature strength is not good penmanship or showing up with a positive attitude at work,” explains Dearing. “Signature strengths should be your comparative advantage. They are the reason why people want you on their team and why you are successful in the fields that you’ve chosen.”
Being familiar with and understanding your strengths gives you a big leg up in the job search process as you can easily highlight what value you will bring to an organization. It can help make you more confident in interviews and more likely to nail your pitch to potential employers.
Next, it’s time to make note of the attributes, traits, or skill gaps that are or could be holding you back from getting a promotion, being a qualified candidate for a new role, or switching to a new line of work.
Examples of signature challenges:
- A lack of industry experience
- Strained relationships with colleagues
- A lack of technical skills
- Geographical location (for an in-person role)
Now, why should you outline your weaknesses? Because these are your biggest opportunities and the easiest way to achieve your goals. “If you could just invest in these areas or turn them from gaps to strengths, then you can unlock that next level in your career,” urges Dearing. Think about it. If a lack of technical knowledge is keeping a sales rep from landing his dream job in marketing, he can use that information to do something about it. By taking a course in digital marketing, getting a few online certifications, and even volunteering for a local organization, he can quickly change that signature challenge into a strength.
Your important messages are the key takeaways you pull from the two former sections. This is a critical step to transform your career.
Your important message could look like, “I should invest in X, Y, Z areas to turn these gaps into strengths and progress in my career.” This helps you identify any areas that could be holding you back and the traits and strengths that you should leverage when marketing yourself for career advancement. Armed with this information, you can move on to step 3 and get even closer to transforming your career.
3. Make a Prescription Plan
Now that you have identified your goals, strengths, and areas for improvement, it’s time to hold yourself accountable and create an action plan.
“You’ve got to take ownership for gathering the knowledge, skills, and tools you need to advance your career, you know exactly what those areas are because of your self-assessment. It’s up to you to follow through on that.”Michael Dearing
Here are a few examples of action-oriented prescriptions plans that show how people will address their skill gaps head-on to invest in themselves and get one step closer to their career goals:
- I will take a mindfulness meditation class to help my anxiety.
- I will teach myself Python to further my engineering career.
- I will talk to three successful company founders to learn from their stories.
- I will read one journal in an adjacent scientific field a quarter to stay up-to-date in my area of expertise.
- I will ensure I participate at least once every team meeting so my voice and opinions can be heard.
- I will speak to my boss about job shadowing some of my teammates to learn more about different areas of the business.
- I will ask my manager for detailed feedback around how I can improve my performance.
Just know, completing these steps won’t magically transform your career and make all your dreams come true. “These prescriptions do not ‘figure it all out,’” explains Dearing. “They are little steps we take on our multi-decade career journey to bring us closer to our heart’s desire.” They provide you with a detailed map of what you can do here and now to achieve your goals in 3, 6, 12, or more months down the road.
Where most people fail is knowing what they want but not translating it down into bite-sized steps they can take today to change their future. Once you’ve identified these steps, you’ll have to diligently work towards achieving them and bettering yourself each and every day. Unfortunately, identifying and writing these steps down is the easy part. Putting in the hard work, dedication, and hours it takes to develop and learn new skills and invest in yourself is the true challenge. Just know, the end goal makes it all worth it!
And again, if while working through the micro-goals in your prescription plan you realize that your heart is no longer in it, just revisit step 1 and redefine your heart’s desire. Things change over time, and that’s OK! You can follow these steps from the beginning quarterly, annually, or whenever your goals change to update them and stay on track to transform your career today.
This article contains content from our live webinar, “How to Build a Career that Deeply Fulfills You” Click here to view the full event recording.