Maybe you have a five-year plan, maybe you’re more the vision boarding type, or maybe there’s just a specific promotion you’re gunning for, but no matter how you think about the future of your career, you probably do have some idea of where you’re headed next.
And that’s great! Planning is an important step in making sure you continue to move forward.
But sometimes, fantastic opportunities aren’t located on that plan you so clearly laid out. And by sticking to your long-term vision so closely, you don’t give yourself the chance to even stumble across them.
So, how can you toe the line between staying focused and driven on the path you’re on while still remaining open to new routes that may pop up? Here are four ideas.
1. Clear Your Head Often
To keep an open mind, it helps to start with a clear one—uncluttered from the demands of both work and life. It’s hard to spot new opportunities when you’re preoccupied by an upcoming client deadline, your boss’s request for more data, and your significant other’s birthday party complications.
So make it part of your weekly schedule to do what you need to do to clear your head—whether that’s by exercising, meditating, writing in a journal, or really anything that makes you feel less stressed and ready to be in the moment. Your method doesn’t matter as much as your commitment to doing it. Not only is this good for your heath in general, it’ll make the necessary mental space for you to mull over new possibilities.
2. Get Outside Your Network
You likely already have a solid network in your current industry—and you should definitely continue to cultivate those relationships for all the obvious reasons.
But you should also develop relationships with interesting people outside your inner circle. Start with people in other departments at your company (you already have something in common!)—they could help you see interesting growth paths or potential projects at work.
Attend an event in a totally different industry that you’ve always been curious about. Sure, it might feel awkward to be, say, the only non-salesperson at an event about sales tactics, but if you’re genuinely curious and open, you may end up having really great conversations with people who are happy to talk about their own careers with you.
When you’re speaking with these people, go deep. Remember: You’re not there to find a new job, these conversations should be about different industries, upcoming projects, big ideas, and anything else you don’t typically discuss in your own circles.
While it may not be obvious how these people can help out your career, they may end up sharing interesting opportunities with you down the road. Or, at the very least, sparking new ideas for you to think about.
3. Say Yes More
We’re not suggesting that you say yes to every little thing that comes across your plate. That’s asking to get stressed out—and fast. (Not to mention, it’ll defeat any head clearing you do.) But start saying yes to those little ideas that come into your head and spark a little excitement in you—again, even if they don’t make complete sense with your current plan.
Maybe “saying yes” is asking your boss if you can learn a little more about a position that recently opened up in your department that you’re not familiar with. Maybe it’s launching a book club at your office to turn your love of reading into something a little more. Maybe it’s finally taking that class to learn a random skill that has nothing to do with your career but you’ve always felt drawn to. Maybe it’s offering to help a friend with a side project she’s working on because you care about the mission and like working with her.
Whatever it is, look at your schedule and see if there’s a way you can say yes more, even if it’s only in a small way. Doing this might just lead to a fun hobby or side project—but it could also lead to an opportunity you wouldn’t have ever imagined.
4. Check In With Yourself—and Others
Finally, make the commitment to check in with yourself on a regular basis, to evaluate the work you’re doing, as well as the work that you could be doing. Are you still happy? Challenged? Fulfilled? Are there new projects you’d like to take on? New skills you’d like to learn? New people you’d like to meet?
As you feel comfortable, it can be valuable to bring friends, mentors, or even your boss if you’re close into this conversation. Talk to them about what you’re learning about yourself through these exercises. Bring up any tension you’re concerned about between these new insights and your original plan. Talk about your multiple passions and how you’re having trouble bringing them all together into one cohesive career path. Their outside perspectives may help you find ways to bring everything together in a way that you’re unable to see.
Ultimately, this all comes back to staying curious in your career. Yes, you can have a plan and be driven toward working on that, but make sure you stop sometimes to look around you and see what else is out there. The options may surprise you.
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