7 Keys to Planning Your Career Path
Most people who have successful careers are asked at some point, “How did you get here? What steps did you take to end up on top?”
People in some careers are able to answer definitively; for example: “I did well in school, got into a great medical school, did my residency, took on a prestigious fellowship, continued to practice and study, and eventually became the most sought-after neurosurgeon in the state.”
But many others will say something like, “There was no grand plan. I just took it one step at a time and tried to make good decisions.” That’s how it is for most CEOs of large organizations, and it’s how it is for writers. There’s no prescribed path to success—there’s not even agreement on the definition of success. But I think most successful people “planned” their careers by nurturing a few specific traits in themselves all along the way.
Since we, at Books & Such, try to help each of our authors build a career (not just “publish a book”), it’s important for us to know what “career-planning” means, and how to accomplish it. I think it’s a process of developing the seven traits below and using them as a framework to guide your day-to-day decisions.
7 Keys to Planning Your Career Path
1. Know your overall vision and purpose.
Whether or not you set specific goals (“publish 5 novels” or “make the NYT bestseller list”) it helps to identify why you’re on this path, and what you hope to accomplish. Maybe your purpose is to help or encourage people, or entertain with stories, or to eventually support yourself through writing. If you have a “big” vision and you know your purpose, you’ll recognize which opportunities are right for you, versus those that will lead you in the wrong direction. Be sure you also have a personal definition of success, so that when you reach it, you’ll recognize it!
2. Always keep learning.
Successful people in every field are always growing. Most do this through reading, independent study, and attending seminars, workshops and conferences. This is true is business, medicine, law, finance, teaching… pretty much every field out there. As a writer building your career, you have numerous ways to keep learning and growing. Make sure you’re taking advantage of them!
3. Have an open mind to recognize unexpected opportunities.
Most successful people can identify various points along their path at which they were presented with the prospect of doing something they had never anticipated. Be focused on your path, but avoid developing tunnel vision. As a writer, don’t discount the many, many venues that are available to writers besides the one you happen to be involved in. And don’t shy away from new challenges or from going outside your comfort zone. Many people look at a new opportunity and if they don’t think they’re ready or meet all the qualifications, they turn it down. Being on a path to success means you sometimes take the leap and agree to do something you’re not sure you can actually do.
4. Be flexible and keep up with the constantly changing world and marketplace.
Few people actually like how fast things change in business, culture, and technology. Yet planning your career involves a commitment to rolling with the changes as best you can. Sometimes this involves #2 above, always keep growing. Often it involves #3, not being afraid of new challenges. Career building is only possible if you refuse to be thwarted by the changes going on around you.
5. Set incremental goals along the way.
Within the context of your overall vision, your short-term goals will help keep you on track. This is where some of the real “planning” comes in to play. Your incremental goals will help you build your career one step at at time. You may not be able to plot your career twenty steps ahead or twenty years into the future, but you can plan what your 2 or 3 most important next steps are.
6. Create strong, long-lasting relationships with people inside and outside your field.
Over time, you may find that the relationships you’ve built with others will help your career more than any other single element. Sure, writing good books helps. 🙂 But you’re not a lone wolf and you’ll find that other people can teach you, assist you, encourage you, or bring you the break you’ve been waiting for. You’ll also discover that the relationships you create along the way are a big part of what makes you want to get up every morning.
7. Make every decision in the context of your overall life and career.
Always be asking, “What is the next best step? Will this current choice set me up for future success as opposed to simply working for me right now?” This is one of the biggest challenges for authors, who are sometimes tempted towards short-cuts or quick money without assessing how it fits into their overall plan for success. While you’re focusing on #3 (being open to unexpected opportunities), also remember to make each decision based on whether it makes a good building block for future success.