If you want to take control of your career, it's time to view it like your college experience.
“Owning your professional career” is a mantra in many organizations. You may see the people around you growing, learning new skills and taking on bigger assignments. And yet, if you’re like many, you may not understand exactly how to influence the direction of your own career, the types of work you should become involved in, or how to get the career you seek. What separates you from them? The answer is simple.
Owning your career implies that you drive the direction of your career. This can seem complex and overwhelming when there is an abundance of opportunities in the workplace to choose from. So, how do you start?
I often translate this concept into the equivalent of a college experience. In college, you start out in general education courses. These courses are designed to give you the fundamentals of a discipline. In business, as you enter an organization or new role, you are being provided the fundamentals or general education of that organization.
Once you’ve reached a level of mastery within your role, you have to declare a major. This is often the missing step for so many talented individuals within their career.
You may be floating through your career expecting someone to advise you on your next steps (your major), whereas individuals who are growing professionally can clearly articulate the direction they are steering their career. They are thoughtful in their assignments to ensure they are acquiring skills along the way that enable them to achieve their career goals, and they know the types of courses (exposure or skill) they need to get there. They know who the professors (key influencers) are and what they look for in these roles. They don’t idealize what their future holds—they attack it with rigorous intent.
When you can clearly articulate you career goals (major), you are much more likely to achieve it. It becomes much clearer which activities, actions, networks and learning you should be invested in—ones that more naturally lead to success. In addition, when you are clear on your goals, others rally around you and are invested in helping you accomplish it.
What About the Wrong Major?
So what is the risk of declaring a major and getting it wrong? This sometimes happens at college. You don’t have enough experience around a discipline, but it sounds appealing or of interest, so you go for it. As with many life experiences, you have to accept a failed major as a lesson learned. The good news is that you are closer to understanding what brings you joy in your career by understanding what doesn’t.
You must accept the decision you have made, and then choose your next career target based on what you have learned. It’s important to ensure, however, that you continue to deliver a peak performance within your current role so that you are considered a viable candidate for your next move. You must be “all in” while you work toward your new target.
Remember, the risk to your career of getting your major wrong is much lower than the risk of not declaring one at all. Staying too long in “general education” will create the perception that you are not hungry to grow your professional career or that you lack drive and decisiveness, which will hurt your career long term.
So, to own your career, start by declaring your major. This is the fundamental step toward accomplishing your career goals.