Career aspirations, to my constant amazement, can start at a very young age. Who has not heard of children expressing their desire to be a teacher, scientist, police officer, nurse or just simply wanting to help people when they grow up?
On the other hand, a career goal for some may not manifest itself very clearly even into early adulthood. Regardless of how and when we get on a career path, there is immense satisfaction when we realize we are "on it," along with the satisfaction of having found a key piece of who we are and what purpose we believe in.
So now you are on a career path, and despite the best-laid plans, there is every likelihood of myriad factors requiring you to make adjustments — if not fully overhaul the plan. In broad terms, we could encounter a career disruption that is voluntary or involuntary. In the former case, we are typically in control. However, this isn't so in the latter case, which could be driven by any combination of market fluctuations, technology inflections, corporate downsizing, offshoring, bankruptcy, mergers or acquisitions.
How each of us reacts to and recovers from career headwinds or tailwinds can be unique. Yet there is preparation along with conditioning we can build that will serve in great stead when a favorable or unfavorable set of circumstances befall any of us. How we come out on the other side of a career inflection point is greatly dependent on the following proactivity:
1. Build your human network by cultivating contacts and relationships within your company, in the industry and across verticals through established professional fora.
2. Take ownership of your development. This is not limited to increasing the depth of knowledge in one's specialty but includes building awareness and knowledge about business and professional activity upstream and downstream of your functional area.
3. Visualize changes to your professional identity by thinking through viable career alternatives before it is forced. I have seen contemporaries languish following a layoff, as they're simply unable to accept seeing themselves in an alternate career. Meanwhile, I've also seen others choose to start from a blank sheet — albeit leveraging their education, experience, adaptability and acceptance of the challenge of new beginnings.
4. Play the long game by keeping impatience in check. When faced with options, do not rule out taking a step back or sideways career-wise to survive (or, better still, forge ahead with a calculated plan). Very often, the next step up the corporate ladder can be a precarious one that's more prone to being dissolved by consolidation or elimination when companies are forced to tighten their belts. Weigh such possibilities carefully before making your choice.
5. Continuity of one's career following a merger or acquisition is often no different from joining a new company. The same holds true following a complete executive management shake-up. Actively work to reestablish your credibility and regain trust at multiple levels of engagement in the new environment.
6. Stepping up the corporate ladder is more often a spiral than a straight line. Opportunities for advancement include making those lateral moves into key functional areas to build your portfolio. Be sure to study the industry and job market so as to prioritize and target areas for development and build experience in value-add areas should the opportunity arise.
7. Make diversity a habit in networking and engagement that is not only about professionals in different industries but also about professionals with diverse ages, backgrounds, cultures, genders, philosophies and more.
8. Make all of your engagements count with thoughtfulness. Nothing adds perspective to an interpersonal or intergroup discussion, negotiation or transaction as quickly as putting yourself in the other person's shoes. That self-taught skill can prove to be another useful tool when developing an alternate career path.
9. Never shy away from venturing into uncharted territory in terms of leadership opportunities. My very first line management role was completely outside my area of technical expertise. I launched into it and discovered the technical experts took it upon themselves to ensure I had the essential information to make decisions and provide direction that would give the team the best opportunities for success. Both parties appreciated the mutual dependencies, which was a terrific recipe for success.
10. Keep up with technology. This is no longer an option, as it touches every profession. The baseline for being technically savvy is ever-changing and — dare I say it — on the rise. Today, it might be all about 5G, IoT, machine learning and more. One can only speculate on the next big tech revolution, and staying abreast has never been easier with the aid of the knowledge superhighway.
Regardless of whether a career opportunity arises or a new career choice is forced because of any of the above situations, the development of mental toughness and a winning attitude is key to creating and staying on a course that is mindfully and materially enriching and rewarding. Most importantly, prioritizing education to build your career is necessary. For instance, if you aspire to be a police officer, you might want to consider taking an NYPD youth education program.