Stop Marking Time

Once I get promoted to VP lots of doors will open for me.

I need 3 more years until my pension kicks in. 

The job is just ok, but I’ve been here a long time and can pretty much coast for the next couple of vesting cycles until something else comes along.

There are two more years left on my contract, then I’ll be free to consider next steps.

My plan is to ride out the pandemic, when the world returns to normal, I’ll figure out the next move.

Raise your hand if any of the above thoughts, or similar variations, crossed your mind recently.  Mine’s up.  I think practically all of us have these thoughts from time to time.  It’s natural to think ahead and dream about what comes next.

Here’s the problem however, for too many people this type of thinking represents the sum total of their career planning.  And if you don’t have a career plan that you are actively executing then you’re just marking time.  That’s no way to live.

Marking time is a passive exercise.  Life is happening to you, you aren’t living.  You’ve handed all the power and control over your career to someone else.  Rest assured that those you’ve empowered with your destiny don’t care about you or your future nearly as much as you do.  People marking time aren’t taking risks.  And if you aren’t taking risks in your career, you’re not trying.

I want to be clear here, there’s nothing wrong with considering promotions, pensions, stock vesting cycles or the state of economy when planning one’s career.  In fact, it would be stupid and irresponsible not to.  However, if you can’t articulate a career plan for yourself beyond those considerations you are in dangerous territory.

A good career plan contains contingencies.  Plan A (I’m waiting for that VP promotion) doesn’t always work out.  What are you doing in the meantime to prepare yourself if that happens?  Do you have a side hustle or hobby that could turn into a career someday? What new skills are you developing? You can’t grow as a person or a professional without continuously improving.  Take a look at your current projects. If none of them are taking you outside your comfort zone, if you’re not being stretched, if you’re not risking failure in at least one aspect of your job, then you’re just marking time. 

One of the silver linings for people who experienced unexpected career interruptions in the past year is that they have been forced to make different plans.  For many, especially those who have worked in the same roles for an extended period, losing a job ranks among their greatest fears.  Yet sometimes it can be a well disguised gift that provides an invaluable new perspective. There’s nothing like confronting our worst fears to help us realize that perhaps we need not be so afraid.  The boogey man under the bed never is as scary as our nightmares.

If any of this rings true for you my first piece of advice is not to worry.  Just like in our work, recognizing the potential threat is the first step.  The next time those thoughts enter your mind use them as incentive to focus on developing a more detailed plan for your career.  Run the what if scenarios.  Connect with your dreams and passions.  Make a plan, including deliverables and deadlines.  Identify things you can do immediately to stretch yourself, take risks, all in the pursuit of ensuring you are prepared no matter what the future brings.  

And most importantly, stop giving control over your future to someone else.  Hold yourself accountable for your future.  All of us are the architects of our own careers, don’t let anyone take that away from you.  Clock and calendars mark time, each of us was born to truly live. 

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