Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Designing the Path to Your Career

Getting from where you are to where you want to be.

Note: This post is part three of a series of posts on the 4D career development framework I use with clients. The 1st phase of the process is Discover Your Strengths and the 2nd phase is Develop Your Vision.

Now that you have discovered your strengths and interests and developed a strong vision of your future goals and plans, it’s time to build the scaffolding to support them. You can think of this stage as a GPS tracker—you know where you are and where you want to go and now it’s time to create the path. What actions do you need to take to make your envisioned future a reality?

As in the other phases, it’s important to approach this phase with a learner’s mindset. Be open to learning new information—even if it contradicts what you thought you knew. You can’t always control how your vision is going to unfold. As you go through this phase you may find that plans you had made aren’t working out, or there might be unexpected stumbling blocks. At all times, just stop and reassess your situation. Do you need to take a step back and focus on different strengths or interests? Perhaps your original vision isn’t realistic and you need to rethink it. Not everything is likely to go smoothly during this phase: in fact, this phase may not develop at all the way you had in mind.

One of the best ways I know to start the Design process is to simply look at your goal or future career and ask yourself, “Can I do this tomorrow?” Meaning, do I have the necessary education, skills, training, experience, etc., to be able to start this work tomorrow? If not, then create a “gap” list. Identify the gaps between you and your future plans. Try asking yourself, “what is the one step I could do tomorrow that would move me closer to my goal?” Some possible steps might include:

  • Researching your interest areas
  • Conducting information interviews
  • Signing up for online classes to build up specific skills
  • Investigating educational opportunities
  • Networking with a professional association related to your chosen field
  • Reading through job postings related to your interests
  • Writing a new resume targeted to your field of interest
  • Attending conferences related to your interests
  • Creating a website or an online portfolio if you have projects or products which demonstrate your skills

As you develop your path, here are some additional questions to consider:

  • What type of planning system will assist me with my goals?
  • Who could accompany or assist me with my goals?
  • What have I already put in place? What actions am I taking now that correspond with my future plans?
  • What skills or talents do I have that are directly transferable to my new role?
  • What would make my new vision come alive?
  • What small actions could turn into new habits?
  • If I were to experiment with one aspect of my goal, what would it be? What might I try out first? How serious is this experiment? How could I make it fun and motivating?

Begin placing the steps in a logical sequence and start to assign a timeline. For instance, perhaps you will spend your spare time this week researching possible steps on the internet. Then the following week you might set up your social media (such as LinkedIn) to make sure you’re taking advantage of opportunities that might come your way. After that, you might start attending networking meetings at the Chamber of Commerce or other places related to your interest area, and so on. Be sure to pay attention to opportunities to move forward into your new future.

Keep in mind you don’t have to know every detail of the process. Some elements involved in making you future vision happen will remain unknown or unpredictable. It’s important not to get bogged down in too many steps and details. Try breaking down your plans into manageable chunks you can work on a step at a time. Instead of starting at a miles-long to-do list, select one item and write “Today I will….” and focus on that one item.

It is also helpful to create an “obstacle overcoming list.” Anticipate possible roadblocks or likely scenarios that might affect your plans. How will you deal with them? Write out your “roadblock destroying” idea. Identify obstacles and workarounds. Include your personal strengths as part of the plan.

Some people find it motivating to create a theme or name for your goal or future career and include the timeline to get there. (This reminds me of a character on the TV show The Middle, who created “The Year of Sue.” One colleague of mine created “The Year of Yes” where she focused on saying “yes” to more experiences.) Here are some ideas for naming your plan:

  • Six months to a new career
  • The start of my startup
  • My move to New York City
  • My year to write my book
  • My new career in finance
  • My transition to nursing
  • My breakout year
  • My live-with-passion year
  • My year to explore new territories

Use your theme to inspire and motivate you. When it ceases to motivate or it changes in some way, just let it go or create a new theme name.

The Design phase is highly unique and depends on the goals you have set up and where you currently are. As a result, there is no one prescription or path that can be laid out; you will need to research and learn as much as you can about your future plans and design the path that will best lead you there. As always, it's a good idea to work with a career counselor or coach who can directly guide you in your planning process. Many career books can also provide you with the steps to find a job; just be sure you focus on the methods that work best for the goal you’re pursuing.

And if you have landed that position (even if it's not quite the one you hoped for), you're ready to tackle the final phase of the process, "Deliver Your Talents."

©2018 Dr. Katharine S. Brooks. All rights reserved.