Don’t know what you want your career to look like? Start by looking up

Girl Looking Up

A question I get a lot from post-grads is: “How do I know if this is what I want? How do I know if this company or industry is where I want to stay?”. I’m the first to admit the formula for “knowing what you want” is not simple, but you have to start somewhere right? So first, I tell them to simply (and physically) “look up”.

Look up from your desk at your boss, your boss’s boss, and hell, even your boss’s boss’s boss. Pay close attention to what they do and how they advanced in their career, and you’ll have a pretty good idea for what your signing up for.

Now here’s the hard part – do you like what you see?

If it makes you feel better I didn’t, and it sucked.

Allow me to elaborate. I was very open about my adoration of Katie Couric when was growing up. I dreamed of standing alongside Matt Lauer in Rockafeller Plaza reciting the morning news. I thought about the crowds of onlookers with their stupid signs begging me to take selfies with their kids. If I could of fully comprehended the term “career path” as an 11 year old I would have probably said, “whatever Katie Couric did. Whatever her ‘path’ was. That’ll be mine too.”

Fifteen years later, it turns out that was not my path. Not even close. You see, getting older also came with big dose of reality. I discovered that Katie Couric’s career involved a lot of broadcast news blood sweat and tears that I was neither good at nor interested in. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE Katie, but not as someone I wish to model my career path after. Those people I discovered because I looked up.

Now I know what you’re thinking, I worked for someone at a company who completely changed my life and became the person whom I then modeled all my career aspirations after.

That would have been awesome, but that wasn’t my fairy tale either.

In fact every time I looked up at my boss, instead of that “I hope that’s me one day” feeling, I felt no excitement and became even more confused about what I was doing at that job in the first place. To be frank, it was terrifying to look up and see something I didn’t like. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing boss, but I didn’t want any part of her job. At that moment I realized three things:

  1. I need to take a red editor’s pen to my current career path.
  2. I need to find some people that gave me that “I hope that’s me one day” feeling.
  3. Was it too late to go back to the Katie Couric plan?

While I didn’t leave my job that very second, I started to seek out people whose career was more aligned with my goals and asked them every question under the sun. When I became exposed to more options, my career path looked a lot clearer. By looking up I was forced to look beyond the confines of my cozy office cubicle. Even though it was scary, it was worth it.

You may find that you look up and like what you see and that should tell you you’re on the right track. If that’s the case, seek out your boss as a mentor and ask them about their career path.

When you look up, what do you see? Do you like it?  

1 Comment

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