Simple Strategies to Make Progress on Your Long-Term Career Goals

5 min read

Career Trends: March 31, 2022
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS


To achieve long-term career goals, begin with the end in mind, work backward to the present day, and execute assiduously. (Image Source: glassdoor.com)
  • Excerpts from article by Dorie Clark, published on hbr.org (Harvard Business Review)

Most of us would prefer to think long-term about our careers, rather than just veering randomly to snag perceived opportunities and avoid pitfalls. But how can you adopt a strategic lens when you might not be entirely sure where you want to end up?

It is not that it’s easy to achieve long-term career goals. But if you know what you’re aspiring toward, you at least have a sense of the process: Begin with the end in mind, work backward to the present day, and execute assiduously.

For a lot of us, the last two years have scrambled the trajectories we were on. Foundational elements were upended, from how we work to geography to where we work.

That hasn’t just shifted the starting point for our career planning; in many cases, it’s also altered our understanding of what we want.

For some, there’s additional clarity: ‘I want to live near family‘, or ‘I only want a job where I can work remotely‘, or ‘it’s time to start my own company.’

For others, the disconcerting truth is that we are just not sure.

Here are 4 research-backed strategies that can be helpful in moving towards your long-term goals:

1. Decide what you don’t want.

We often put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to know our future direction. Partly because humans are hardwired to dislike uncertainty. Also sometimes because we fear losing status with others if it seems like we are not sure about what we are doing.

That pressure can lead us to prematurely decide on a course of action that may not be a good fit.

There’s another option. Take the opposite approach. Get clear on what you don’t want, and then take steps to avoid that.

It’s much easier to identify things you know you dislike, rather than ideating about a hypothetical future.

For instance, you might decide:

  • You never want to work for a micromanaging boss again
  • You’re done with your current industry
  • You no longer want to work hands-on and only want to take on advisory roles

Those are extremely useful pieces of data from which to form a more realistic picture of what you do want.

Ask yourself: How can I make sure I avoid these things in the future? 

2. List the careers that interest you. Then narrow this down.

  • We all know it’s impossible to do everything at once.
  • Yet it’s hard to resist the lure of too many goals.
  • Instead, we need to get disciplined and narrow down our focus.

BRIEF CASE STUDY:

Elizabeth, a professional, whom the author profiled in their book Reinventing You, was interested in a half-dozen possible careers.

Exploring them all could have become a massive waste of time that distracted her from making genuine progress on anything.

Instead, she had a methodical approach — gathering “data points” about each profession in order to find reasons to rule it out.

  • This process allows you to focus more intensively on a small number of promising avenues.
  • Think about how you can narrow down your options and then pick one direction as your “provisional hypothesis” for where you want your career to go.
  • You can always change your mind later, but you have made an informed choice and will be strategically working toward a plausible goal.

3. Develop your foundational skills and knowledge.

In science, “basic research” focuses on increasing our understanding of fundamental phenomena, for example — how the brain works, or the principles of physics. Whereas “applied research” translates those findings into practical, real-world uses.

In our careers, it is great to be practical, of course — but only if we’re sure of the direction where we want to go.

For many of us, the myriad of professional choices we might make leads to decision paralysis and no action at all.

To avoid such a fate, double down on the foundational skills and knowledge that will make you better, no matter what direction you ultimately decide to pursue.

EXAMPLE: Learning to code in a particular computer language may not be helpful if you decide to leave engineering — but becoming a better public speaker or honing your time management skills are likely to be useful in almost any profession.

4. Take stock of your emotional and mental energy.

One of the most important elements in thinking strategically about your career is understanding that our lives operate in cycles. We have to recognise where we are in that process.

  • You may have been languishing during the pandemic, but now feel ready to shake off the torpor and dive into new projects with zeal.
  • Or you may have spent the past two years working at the outer edges of your limits, just trying to keep everything together.
  • If that is the case, this probably is not the moment to go all-in at work.

Whether it is a formal sabbatical or simply recognising that it’s OK to pause on creating ambitious new goals for yourself right now — avoid beating yourself up for that choice.

Short-term pressures always intrude on our long-term career planning, and that’s especially true when we’ve been through a collective period of crisis.

Even if we’re not entirely sure where we want to end up, by following these strategies, we can ensure we’re taking the right steps to move away from what isn’t working for us towards a future that seems more hopeful.


Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet?

Career Trends: Tips for Joining a Film/TV/OTT Art Department


(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the above mentioned article are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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