The 20-Something's Guide to Avoiding Career Stagnation
Most people eventually hit a wall in their careers, and not all of them can break through it. You've probably seen it happen: a man well past his prime, doing the exact same job for so how many years, and living a life of complete boredom. Does this sound like an appealing future to you?
This is the dreaded "career stagnation", and it can happen to just about anyone. It usually starts when you get too comfortable with the security of your work and a steady paycheck. Like a poison, mediocrity then seeps in, robbing you of the ability to think creatively, recognize opportunities, and take risks. The result is that you feel trapped in a job you neither hate nor truly enjoy.
Life is too short to not have a fulfilling career. Here's how to make sure you don't end up stagnating by setting the groundwork for success early on.
Defining Your Career Strategy
Most people don't have a well-defined career plan, and this is usually why they feel lost and confused with how to progress. Don't be lazy; creating a decent plan only takes a few hours of work, but it can save you years of wasted effort and missed opportunities.
1. Define your goals - Do you want to be a senior analyst at an investing firm, or the marketing director at a multinational conglomerate? That's all good, but baby steps, man. Think of short, medium, and long term objectives, and give yourself reasonable time limits for each one.
2. Determine the necessary skills - Companies won't hire you just for having a great attitude (though that certainly doesn't hurt). What do you need to bring to the table? Find out which skills are required for your dream position, and don't hesitate to invest in training or education to develop these.
3. Tracking your progress - This can be summed up in one question: what are the biggest weaknesses that are holding you back right now? You need to take a hard, unbiased look at your present situation, and think of ways to move forward.
Situations change, so you should update your career plan on a regular basis. Setting aside a night each month for reviewing your direction is an excellent way to ensure that you are working on what is really important.
Building the Right Habits
Getting a better job doesn't happen overnight, and you need to start working on it today. Dedicate at least an hour every day to learning a new skill or improving one you already have. Challenge yourself by looking for ways to use these skills in various side projects, preferably ones that make you money. The practical experience you gain is invaluable, and will help strengthen your resume.
It is also important to actively build your network, and stay abreast of the latest news within your industry. You usually find out about the best opportunities this way, and it helps develop your reputation. All else being equal, a company will always hire someone who is well-connected over a complete stranger.
Most importantly, get in the habit of taking risks and making tough choices for the good of your career. This path is going to involve plenty of hard work and occasional failures. If you aren't committed, it will be all too easy to just take the safe option - which is to do nothing. Remember that you have the advantage of youth, and can afford to screw up every now and then.
The Bottom Line
A real man doesn't settle for just any job he can get; he knows what he is truly capable of achieving, and doesn't stop climbing until he is satisfied with his lot in life. If you can take charge of your career in this fashion, you will already be leaps and bounds ahead of the masses.