BY ERIN EWART
There’s lots of research out there about the benefits of regular reflection and journaling. I don’t do as much of it as I’d like, and that’s something I want to continue to work on in the new year. But I do periodically take time to write things down, and it’s always interesting and instructive to go back and read through old journal entries.
Recently I was reading through some entries from about five years ago, before I started Careers for Social Impact and moved across the country. My life was very different then, and I was clearly ready for a change. I was working for an organization with a great mission and I liked the people I worked with, but I knew that the work I was doing wasn’t the right fit for me.
In particular, I wanted more flexibility in the way that I worked – which included not coming to an office every day – and I wanted to be helping people more directly and seeing the impact of my work in a more tangible way.
I didn’t know at that point that I’d start my own business, yet as I look back it’s interesting to reflect on how I’ve created something that allows me to have the flexibility and impact that I wanted. There are definitely tradeoffs to working this way and days when it is very hard, but for me at this time in my life it is the right fit.
That said, it wasn’t easy to get here and it certainly did not feel linear: “I want more flexibility, therefore I will start my own business.” No! It was messy and uncertain and scary, and I’ve come to realize that most transitions are. But if you can push through the hard times and uncertainty, there are great things that lie ahead.
So, what does all this have to do with you and your career? As we approach the end of the year, with holidays and time off and a new year beginning, it’s a natural time for reflection. And in many organizations, it’s a time for end of year performance reviews. Whether or not your organization has an official review process this time of year, I encourage you to give your career an end of year review and to set some goals for the new year.
Over these next few weeks, as you think about what you want to accomplish in the new year and beyond, take some time to reflect on the four questions below and do some brainstorming about what you want to accomplish. In my next post I outline some concrete next steps you can take to help make your goals a reality and ensure you’re on track for a great year.
Four Questions To Answer For Your Year-End Career Review
Set aside some time to free write your answers to the questions below. Try to block out at least 1-2 hours in a place where you won’t be distracted (turn off that email!) so that you can really focus.
- IMPACT & ACCOMPLISHMENTS
What were my proudest accomplishments?
Think about your personal and professional highlights from the last year. When did you feel you were at your best and making an impact? When did you feel energized and excited about the work you were doing? What skills were you using at those times?
As you think through these experiences, you should see some trends emerge, both around the work that you most enjoy doing and the core skills and strengths that you come back to using again and again, regardless of the situation.
Once you’ve generated the list, take some time to quantify your accomplishments and impact (did you help save time, generate revenue, maximize efficiency, reach more people, help achieve a larger organizational goal?) and record them with as many details as you can using the STAR framework in a document that you can update and add to over time. It will be affirming to see the measurable outcomes of your work, and your future self will thank you when it’s time to do that performance review, update your resume, or prep for an interview, and you have all the details of your biggest wins ready to go.
- LEARNING & RISK TAKING
When did I try something new and what did I learn?
Another way to frame this: when did I make a mistake? If you’re not pushing yourself and experiencing some missteps or failures along the way, you’re not growing, and that’s a problem. We all need to be growing and learning, both for our career success and also because it’s a fundamental part of having a meaningful life.
Growth entails taking risks and encountering some failures, and while pushing yourself to change is hard, experimenting and taking calculated risks is critical to your personal and professional success. As you think about the things that didn’t work out as you hoped, try not to criticize yourself – remember that these were times when you tried something new and it didn’t quite work. Think about why it didn’t work, what you learned, and what you could (or did) do differently the next time, and make sure you capture those thoughts both for your own learning and for the next time you’re asked that favorite of all interview questions, “tell me about a time you failed, and what you learned from it.”
- PERSONAL & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
What do I want to do more and less of in the coming year?
Building from the questions above, what shifts do you want to make in how you are focusing your time and energy this year? How can you use your core strengths more in your work, and what skills do you want to learn, develop, or use more often?
Once you identify one or two areas, do some brainstorming on tactical things you can do to make progress. These could be smaller steps such as taking a course, joining a new group or committee, talking to your manager about new types of projects you’d like to take on, or volunteering or joining a board. Or they may be larger ones like going to grad school or moving to a new role in your current organization or a new one.
These goals don’t need to be exclusively work related: challenging yourself to achieve a personal goal like completing a race, learning a language, or spending time on a cause you believe in will build skills that are valuable at work (resilience, time management, and discipline, among others) and will make you a more well-rounded, satisfied, and confident person who others want to hire and work with. It will also expose you to new people and networks, which is a critical part of your long-term career success (see #4 below).
Once you’ve identified the things you want to do more of, you’ll need to make room for them by deciding what you want to do less of this year. It’s impossible to avoid all the things we don’t like and aren’t good at, and it’s important to know what those things are and have strategies to manage them. However the more we can focus on the things we’re best at, the more satisfied and effective we are in work and life.
- PEOPLE & RELATIONSHIPS
Who are the most important people in my network, and how effectively am I building and maintaining relationships?
Last but certainly not least on this list are your relationships. The advice to “build your network before you need it” is more true than ever today, when the job search is so dependent on networking and referrals.
Start by creating a list of the top 15-20 people in your network – the people who are your biggest supporters, champions, and mentors. Have you been in touch with them in the last 3-6 months? If not, now’s a great time to reach out to share an update and ask how you can be of help to them in the new year.
In addition to keeping in touch with your existing network, you should also consistently be making new connections to expand and diversify your network. If you haven’t made as many quality connections as you’d like in the last year, identify some specific ways you can do this next year: take a colleague or contact to lunch or coffee once a month, be active in a professional association, join affinity groups within your organization, or connect with groups outside of work that allow you to pursue your interests while meeting new people.
Finally, make a plan for how you’ll consistently follow up with and maintain the relationships you’re building. And finally, remember that while networking can have a negative connotation, at the core it’s all about building relationships with people who share your interests – expanding your professional circle of friends so to speak. And who doesn’t want more friends?
I’d love to hear what insights you have after thinking through these questions, and what ideas you’re excited to pursue in the new year. Share your comments below and read on for part two of this post, where I share some specific next steps you can take to solidify your goals and build them into your plans for the new year. Until then, happy holidays!