At some time in your career, there will come a time when what you want and what other’s want from you will diverge. It has happened several times in my life and each time it was a challenging moment. When it happens to you, you will find yourself questioning some very basic truths about your work and your life. Finding answers requires some hard thinking and, sometimes, difficult choices. What will you do when the time comes to choose between your own path or someone else’s? Are you ready to face that decision today?
This way or that?
As you work through your career, day by day, month by month, each decision you make will move you in one direction or another. Will you focus on tech support or networking? Do you want that supervisor position or are you more comfortable as a member of the larger team? Is network management starting to feel dull? Each assignment you take on, each project that you promote will steer your career. Sometimes it happens in subtle ways and sometimes more dramatic. Sometimes your boss comes to you, unannounced and asks you if you want the supervisor position. Sometimes a project is dropped in your lap without any notice.
Your goal is to recognize the cumulative effect of all these little decisions and try to see where it is leading you. In this way, you can seek to counteract that direction or enhance it. Instead of just moving from task to task and project to project, you start to gain some knowledge about your path and your desires for the future. Without this knowledge, you will find your career being directed by those around you instead of yourself. This is never a good situation, as it usually brings you to a destination that is different than your true desire.
Do it my way
No matter how much you might try to direct your career, though, there will be those managers who think they know what is right for you. To be fair, sometimes they might have good ideas, but you need to investigate and approve each turn in the career road, not simply follow someone else’s direction blindly. You will often find that other’s advice is given more to solve their problems than direct your career.
Does your manager really think you would be a good supervisor, or are they only trying to find a quick solution to their staffing problems? Does your co-worker want to swap projects because they think you would do a better job, or do they want to avoid a project that they believe is doomed to failure? Are you being pushed in one direction simply because no one else wants the job? Beware of these outside attempts to direct your career.
Whenever you are presented with a career-directing task or project, take the time to think deeply about the ramifications. Follow the path to the logical conclusion. Where will this assignment lead? What direction is this taking me? Then, if you have any issues with this direction, you need to talk to your manager. You need to inform them of your concerns, especially if this assignment is leading you far off your chosen path. Find out why this particular assignment was given to you. It might be that there is no one else to do it. It might be that you have a better relationship with the parties involved. This happens in every job, and it will not be a problem, as long as your manager understands where you want to direct your career and not assume that accepting this project means you want to spend all your time in this work.
Finally, if you find yourself consistently being pushed in a career direction that is wildly different from your goals, you need to take action to restore that career direction. Perhaps this company isn’t the best place to pursue your goals. Maybe you decided that this career isn’t where you want to spend the rest of your life. Does your manager understand your needs? Are they ignoring them or are they lacking the power to assist you? Have you done everything you can to communicate your career direction?
In the end, it should be your decision how you build your career. Don’t let your managers, or your own action, dictate your career by default. It is only by actively directing your career that you can hope to achieve the success you deserve.