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Jumpstarting Your Career in the New Year

Personal Perspective: Meeting goals, mentoring, and actualizing your vision.

The new year is an opportunity to think about one’s career trajectory with fresh eyes. There are many things that people can do to help themselves move forward in their careers, regardless of their field.

Before thinking about all the things that one wants to do and accomplish, it could be very helpful to reflect on previous accomplishments from the past year. Many people need to do this anyway when submitting an annual report, but it’s a worthwhile exercise for anyone to take stock of how they spent their time and energy. Instead of a to-do list, it’s a done list or an accomplished list. Doing this can provide some confidence for thinking about future goals and outcomes. It serves as a reminder that we are indeed capable of the next thing.

Afif Ramdhasuma/Unsplash
Afif Ramdhasuma/Unsplash

Doing this also helps you to think about long-term and short-term goals. Long-term goals might be actualized over the course of a couple of years, and short term goals can be met within the space of a year. And, of course, short term goals can steadily move you toward the long-term goals.

Now is also a good time to take out a fresh sheet of paper and a pen, and perhaps sit with a cup of tea or good coffee and make a list of dreams and visions for the year, as well as for two years out and five years out, not to mention just for the single month ahead. There’s something about taking some quiet time alone and putting pen to paper, rather than doing this on a computer, that can center a person and help them think about the larger picture of which they are a part. Even though January is a new month just like any other month, it feels symbolic and carries with it the ritual of the new year, and can feel hopeful and liberating when thinking about career dreams. I think of it as a time when things look more expansive and it’s a little bit easier to get a bird's-eye view on our lives rather than getting mired in the details.

This is also a great time to consider finding a mentor who can be a good companion on your career journey. Alternatively, it is a good time to consider becoming a mentor to someone else. All of us can benefit from good mentors throughout our lives, regardless of the rank or position we hold. We can always learn from people who have achieved what we haven’t yet and hope to, or have been through similar schooling or reached certain milestones in their career. It helps to have multiple mentors so we can gather different information, wisdom, and inspiration from different people.

There are a number of things to think about when considering what it means to become a mentor. There's often no greater compliment than to be asked to be someone’s mentor. Sometimes we are asked this very directly, and other times mentoring emerges rather organically without a direct invitation to that sort of relationship. Sometimes we are even assigned a mentor in a new position.

It’s important to consider how much time and energy you’re able to really commit to this, how regularly you would be able to communicate with the other person, how often you might be able to meet in person or over zoom, and it seems obvious yet it’s not often talked about, but it’s important that we simply enjoy the person as a human being. If this is to be an enduring relationship it helps if it is with someone you feel care and concern for and want to nurture their growth. Being a mentor also involves believing in the person and their ability and potential, and also believing in the value of our own experience and that it’s somehow worthy of emulating.

It’s also a good idea to have a sense of the other person’s expectations for mentoring to know if it is a commitment that you’re able to make and stick with. For example, knowing how often a person wants to be in touch or have a meeting is good information.

Mentoring, when done well, can be a lifelong experience, and can also bring forth tremendous fulfillment for the mentor as well as the mentee. Often when we are involved in mentoring someone, we wind up learning a lot ourselves.

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More from Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D.
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