sunrise on an open, empty road

It's Tough To Know Where You’re Going If You Don't Know Where You've Been

Nancy Sullivan Blog

sun rise on an open road

Where are you in your career?

Are you miserable, coasting through each day without purpose? Are you excited about moving up the ladder? Or, are you stuck wondering if your current job is the last one you will ever have?

I often tell people who are unhappy with their current jobs that they will never find a better job until they know more about where they are now. This is what I call the Career Positioning Model.

Gaining insight into your current state of being at work will help you plot your future course. In my experience, most of us fall into five possible stages of career positioning:

  1. Upward Mobility
  2. Deceleration
  3. Moving Laterally
  4. Preparing to Exit
  5. Embracing the Present

1. Upward Mobility
Those of us in this stage are looking to move up within our current organizations. We are looking to gain more status or responsibility, and are driven to achieve more. You may have been groomed for upward mobility through a leadership or high-potential program. This has given you an appetite for more than you currently have: more important job, more money, bigger car, better office.

Reflecting on the various stages of career development will help you find the triggers that lead to a more satisfying work life.

Nancy SullivanSVP, Talent Development Consultant
Sometimes over the years, the fire that drives us to be upwardly mobile begins to burn a little less intensely; somehow we are not motivated by the next big job or title. Aspirations, desires and fulfillment often shift over time. When the desire to move up begins to wane, it’s time to do some internal reflection, or work with a good coach or mentor to find new aspirations better aligned with who and where you are today.

2. Deceleration
You have worked hard, achieved a lot, but something changes and you want to slow down a bit, devote more time to personal goals, possibly de-emphasize career goals. Maybe you need to take care of an ill family member. Or, you’ve reached the “Mommy Stage” or “Daddy Stage” and you are adding to your family. This is what I call the Deceleration Stage. Deceleration may be temporary or it can be the next and possibly last phase of your career.

If deceleration occurs at an early career point and you think you’ll be re-engaging in a few months or a couple of years, be aware, a lot can happen while you are away in deceleration mode. This can create rifts or disconnects between you, your organization and your colleagues. Plot your deceleration thoughtfully, and include a path for re-entry. If possible, negotiate the terms of re-entry before you leave so that everyone knows you are coming back, and you know what you’ll be doing.

3. Moving Laterally
You are perfectly happy in your current role, and don’t necessarily want to move up. You don’t need more responsibility or money. But you do seek new and different challenges. The lateral move is for you.

Although it does not necessarily precipitate a move up, moving laterally can provide many benefits to long-term career planning. It can enrich your experience and skill set, making you eligible for future upward movement.

4. Preparing to Exit
You are working for a manager or team that you don't get along with. Do you leave the company, or just the department? Both can provide relief and increased job satisfaction if planned out properly.

Moving to another department or business unit within your organization can often provide the same relief as leaving altogether. You get all the thrill of new challenges and working with new people, but without the stress of changing jobs. That being said, sometimes the only way to really grow as an individual is to find a completely new organization. I have known many people who did not find their true calling until they left their organizations and started over.

5. Embracing the Present
This is the last stage on my list, but it is by no means the least important. In some ways, this can be the best career stage. You are in a job, at an organization, that you love. You have no desire for fundamental or seismic change. You honestly feel you are doing exactly what you were meant to do.

Enjoy this career stage—it could last months, years or longer.

Study the five stages carefully, and try to figure out which one applies to you. Perhaps you have a foot in more than one stage, or recognize that you have moved out of one stage and are now entering another. Reflecting on the various stages of career development will help you find the triggers that lead to a more satisfying work life.

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