What a Difference a Year Makes

Around this time of year I stop to make goals for the next year and measure progress in the previous year. Thanks to my new career mantra, I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

This week is the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. I generally use this time to start looking back over the past year to see what kinds of progress I have made on my goals and begin establishing goals for the coming year. As I was looking back to this time last year, it reminds me again of how much I have accomplished. This year I have quite a bit to be grateful for.

Frustrated EmployeeYou see, around this time last year, I was deep in the doldrums of a certified career rut. I am good at what I do. I am good at working with clients during the software conversion process, dealing with everything from Change Management to Gaming out Workflows. I am great at providing Educational assistance and leading Educational projects if reviews from my clients are any indication. I’m good a providing onsite support during conversion go-lives, no matter how stressful the situation gets I’m praised for being a calming and knowledgeable presence. I’m good at rooting out and solving inefficiencies, workflow challenges and developing ways to save clients time and money through Operational Audits. And I’m good at creating and maintaining e-learning content for our system that is consistently praised as both Professional and High Quality, even though at times Adobe Captivate makes me want to tear my hair out. (Seriously, after 5 different version changes why is there STILL no mouse fade????)

But I was growing bored and I knew that I didn’t want to keep doing the same thing for the rest of my career. The problem was I didn’t know which direction to go. I didn’t feel like I could move forward in the Technology realm due to my lack of skills/accreditation. My degrees are in Liberal Arts (specifically History) and I know that gets me kicked out of consideration for most positions in Technology thanks to ATS systems and short-sighted hiring managers; but I can’t afford to go back to college to pursue degrees in computer science. I also knew I couldn’t go back to the non-profit world where I came from, despite my strong desire to use my skills to help improve society and make it better. It is sad, but it will cause me and my family severe financial harm were I to return to that world, where the pay is chronically low, health insurance is not provided/unaffordable and options to save for retirement are nonexistent. And so I was stuck. I didn’t know where to go, but I knew I couldn’t stay where I was.

Then, while listening to a podcast, I was stopped in my tracks when one of the guests said the following words:

You are the CEO of your own career.

The guest went on to elaborate that while it is vital for businesses to offer professional development and growth opportunities for their employees, employees should not assume that their employers are in charge of their own careers. Career development needs to be a key concern of every employee today, because we are operating in a “You’re on your own” type of employment market.

light-bulb-1246043_640That statement, while so obvious on the face of it, was powerful for me. “Why hadn’t I thought of this before?” I asked myself. “Of course I can’t rely on an employer to have a career track for me…I need to create a career track for myself!” It’s a frightening concept to be sure; it would be comforting to go back to the time when someone could work at one place for their entire career. But those days are gone.

That single statement, that I was the CEO of my own career, got me out of my inertia and analysis paralysis. It became my mantra for the next year, and whenever I got frustrated or scared I would whisper it to myself as a reminder that at the end of the day, I needed to look out for my own career because no one else was going to do it for me. Using that phrase inspired me to:

  • Research careers available in the technology sector via Job Boards and Position Announcements, identifying both the career track I would like to pursue and some most likely next-step positions to get me there.
  • Identify skills sought after for those career tracks and positions and cross-referencing them with my current skill set.
  • Begin tracking my skill set via a Skill Wall, with skills ranked 1-5 based on my experience/comfort level with them. That way I can see at a glance where I need to improve and begin pursuing opportunities that allow me to improve the lower-ranked skills.
  • Begin educating myself on the skills I needed to know, both through formal and informal sources. Udemy has been a big part of addressing this side of the challenge, and they have proven to be very cost-effective as well.
  • Joining the Project Management Institute and it’s affiliated Wichita chapter, where I have not only attended meetings to learn more about how Project Management is done in situ but also to seek out mentors and career advice from practicing professionals.
  • Identifying and pursuing several professional certifications to advance my career and help address my educational/certification gap in the technology area.
  • Started advocating for myself and getting my ideas out there in the world and in front of decision makers at the office, rather than filing them up through normal channels where they typically get lost and forgotten. I’ve stepped on some toes doing this, but that is often a necessary price for change.
  • Created a multi-directional career advancement plan, which allows me to work on several of these different areas at once and adapt my plans to keep making progress when one direction fails or stalls.

Naturally I’ve had some setbacks in this progress. For example, in my effort to pursue more direct Project Management experience I explained my interest to senior leadership, advocating for both the creation of another Project Management position at the company and myself as the ideal candidate for the role. After initial positive reactions, it was ultimately determined that resources were not available to create a new position, but that I would be kept in mind if that changed. It was very frustrating for me to hear that, but I found that thanks to my mantra and my newly-developed career strategy it was easier for me to respond to that news in a more Stoic manner. It was a road block in one direction, but I am moving in several directions at once, and one lane being closed off no longer results in freezing and analysis paralysis, as I had the year before.

I’ve come a long way in the last year. While I may still be in the same job title, I no longer feel stuck. I’ve developed bravery in my career, and I’m taking active measures to keep moving forward. I’m working on my professional and personal goals for the coming year, but I’m enjoying taking a moment to see how far I’ve come in the last year and I’m grateful for all of the progress I have made. All it took was one little phrase we should all remember: You are the CEO of your own career.

  1. Good on you for being proactive and taking total ownership of your career, Maggie. In today’s ultra competitive and unstable working environment, it is upto every single one of us to take 100% responsibility for our own career. If we don’t, then who will? It is not an employer’s job to care about our jobs and career aspirations. If we are clear about what we want to do, the direction in which we want to go and we take small steps consistently to develop and polish our skills, it will attract the attention of the right people and we will find doors opening and opportunities presenting themselves.

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