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Start with the end in mind

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Taking advantage of the present by thinking about the future.

I’m often contacted by women I’ve worked with in leadership development programmes asking for my career advice. A taste of what I hear:

“I’ve been approached by a headhunter and offered a job. I’m flattered but should I take it?”

“I’m starting to feel restless. I’ve been in this role for three years and I’m doing really well but I think there is more out there for me.”

“I’m not making the progress I expected in this job and feel like I’m getting side-lined or passed over. How do I start to think about my next move?”

And since COVID hit – “I’m being made redundant. I’m partly angry but partly relieved and excited about what’s next for me.”

If you’re having similar questions, let me share a simple idea. This can have a powerful impact – not just on your next move but on the whole future of your career. Instead of thinking about your next move, start by thinking of where you want to be in ten, fifteen or twenty years. Ask yourself:

  1. What kind of impact do I want to have?

  2. What do I truly value in life?

  3. What kind of organisation do I want to be working in?

  4. How do I want to be working, e.g. self-employed or salaried?

  5. What type of leadership role do I want?

  6. What is personally important in the next ten, fifteen or twenty years which I want my working life to accommodate?

Notice that what job do you want? isn’t one of the questions. Most women I work with can’t answer that, but they do feel inspired to think more broadly and creatively about their future working life. If you do have a specific idea about the job or role you want, that’s great too – it’ll help you aim for a fixed point.

Time to answer those questions

I suggest picking up a sheet of blank paper, then writing or even drawing your answers. It’s okay to have more than one answer, and it’s okay to just sit with the question for a few days then come back to it. They key is to give yourself permission to look to the future, drop any preconceptions of leadership and let your imagination off the leash.

Envision your future career. When you have it firmly in mind, go onto the next step; back-mapping to where you are now. Chris Johnson, in his book Taking Charge, says that most people take “the line of least resistance” when making career decisions. That is, they make short-term based decisions, rather than having the end in mind. In contrast, when you make decisions with the end in mind, you are setting yourself up for success. Chris advises you to look at “the fit between what you are doing today and what you might be doing at some future point in time which is truly aligned with your energy and interest”.

Think about your career and give yourself permission to dream big. Picture your life in the future and the impact you want to have on the world. Instead of responding to what is in front of you right now, think to the future. You will be able to create your own opportunities and take control of your career.

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