Clarifying your career goals: The benefits of taking time to reflect

A colleague and friend said to me recently, “I may not have certainty of the future, but I sure have clarity on what I want.” These words struck me as really fitting for this weird time we're in, and I’ve been ruminating on them ever since. 

All of us can get stuck in the moment, unsure what our next steps will be in our career. We want a certain outcome. We chase aspirational goals like a promotion, a bigger pay cheque, or a certain lifestyle. And yet, we feel stuck—unable to move forward with any decisions because we are uncertain of the future.  

If you're feeling this way, conducting a simple 'spring-cleaning' exercise can help you gain clarity on what’s important to you and what could be the next steps. To begin, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and set aside 20 to 30 minutes to complete the following exercise. Be truthful and honest with yourself and do an inventory of your current career situation, whatever that may be. Ask yourself these three simple questions: 

  • What do I love about what I am doing or the job I’m currently in? 
  • What do I want more of? 
  • What do I want to let go of? 

Take note of what comes up in this list. What lights you up about your work, your current position, or where you work? Consider how important your current pay or benefits are for you.  

Often, we lament what we don’t like and what we don’t have, and get trapped in the ‘grass is greener over there’ thinking. I get it. Yet we forget to explore the good things that we do have. We don’t celebrate enough the things that work, that bring us joy and comfort.  

Explore what’s working. Maybe you love your team, have a great boss, or really like the independence the role allows. Perhaps you love a specific aspect of your responsibilities and you’re becoming noticed for a particular super skill. All of this is important to celebrate, as this joy, alignment of values, experiences, and wants are all key elements of job satisfaction. You never know—perhaps, without much effort, the next growth opportunity is right in front of you and you haven’t seen it until this moment. 

Next, let’s explore where there is potential growth for you. Ask yourself: What would I like more of?  

For example, do you want to enhance your presentation skills or take on more supervisory responsibilities? Or perhaps you want to stretch and take on work in an area that’s new to you? A great way to evolve in your career is to expand on what you love doing. This could mean taking the initiative to tackle a new project, taking a course, or shadowing a colleague to gain more hands-on experience. There is a plethora of opportunities for learning—hands on or on the fly through podcasts, articles, or courses. Here are a couple of great resources to check out:

Finally, what would you like to let go of? This could be a thought, responsibility, or feeling. When we are stuck, we tend to ruminate on the idea that we can’t or shouldn’t do something, on ill feelings like guilt or shame. Often, I hear folks say, “I can’t change jobs now…I have great benefits,” or “I can’t get out of THAT responsibility,” or “I should do this, but I just never have any time to…” But imagine this: what if?

What if you reframed what you couldn’t do into what you could do, think, or feel? What if you found a new job that was more aligned with your strengths and values? What if you went back to being an individual contributor instead of a people manager, because you’d be more personally fulfilled? What if you blocked off your calendar for creative time, so that you can actually strategize and think—an aspect of your job that brings you joy? 

Sometimes a shift in mindset is needed, a decluttering of the negative thinking that can prevent us from moving forward in our decisions, feelings, or responsibilities. When we declutter, we instantly feel lighter, clearer, and sometimes even more certain on what the future can bring. There is never a better time than the present to gain clarity in your career journey. The future is always in motion, and although it may be uncertain, you hold the possibilities and have the choice in how you shape it.