During your career, there are a number of crossroads that force decision points. Each decision point leads you in a trajectory that accelerates your opportunities or stalls you out. How you make those decisions and why may determine your ultimate success.
Our careers tend to be like a 3-act play. Each act is a crossroads moment:
ACT I: This is the period that you’re “finding your way”. Sometimes your first few jobs are outside of your educational major. Not to worry, as it’s all part of the exploring process. However, within a five to 10-year period you should have a pretty good direction, if not a passion. If, while half-way through your first 10 years, you don’t view yourself as unique in the field you’ve chosen, start looking at another avenue that will unleash your passion. Toward the end of Act 1 you should be able to differentiate yourself from your peers. Those who are passionate about what they do, tend to gravitate to the top of their field.
ACT II: During this period a number of things are changing. You begin to shift from a set of hard skills-only to learning the soft skills: From execution-only to influencing others. You may shift from an individual contributor to a team leader or a supervisor. You should be gaining the attention of higher-level management. At a later stage you become a manager or a high-level individual contributor and see a wider canvas of the organization: The business, the opportunities, the competitive forces, and your role in a more targeted way. This is the time where you accelerate your experiences and decide how far you want to go toward your ultimate career goal. This is also the time when conflicting objectives occur: Family, peers, competition, marketplace forces, bosses, business changes and many others.
ACT III: Optimize your last 10-15 years until retirement. Now is the time you know whether you will achieve your ultimate career goal or not. You may have run out of time, or external forces prevent you from moving forward. This is decision time as to how you want to spend the final act of your career: Accelerating to your dream objective? Focus on creating a legacy? Mentoring those around you to achieve a higher level of performance? Serve on the boards of non-profit organizations? Teach a class or two at the local university? Whatever you decide to do will leave a meaningful mark.
Needless to say, these three acts are flexible depending upon things like the size of your organization, the industry your in, the cycle of the economy, your function, and many others. Nothing is gospel, but these crossroads can serve as a guideline as to what to expect and when.
One last comment: Happily-ever-after is a dream. You can’t stop learning or moving forward. You’re either advancing or you’re sliding.
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