At the end of the day, we all want to do valuable, meaningful work for organizations we believe in. We might work a job for a few years to make ends meet, but ultimately, we want a career. We want a field of work in which we can move up and that makes a positive difference in the world.
You can break down your working life into three stages — the beginning, where you’re trying things out; the middle, where you’re established and have an idea of what you’re good at; and the end, where you’re training new people and building your legacy. Each career phase lasts about fifteen years.
Reflecting on which stage you’re in is important. In fact, career expert Brian Fetherstonhaugh writes in Harvard Business Reviewthat you should calculate the total number of working days you have left. He says that creating a strategy is essential to pursuing meaningful work. A career is a marathon, not a sprint.
You’re in your twenties or thirties. At this point, you’re discovering how you work best. Are you better at delegating or doing it yourself? Are you comfortable being in a social position or are you more of an introvert?
Expect that you’re going to make mistakes and wrong turns. You’ll learn from those, find what you’re truly passionate about, and discover what you’re good at. You might even go back to school at this stage in your career. Do everything you can to learn about the fields you’re interested in.
You’re in your late thirties to early fifties. You’ve found what you excel at and what you like. You understand how to market your skills and build on what you’ve established. This is a good time to play on your strengths but keep learning by occasionally going outside of your comfort zone.
By this point, hopefully, you’ve committed to a career path and found an organization that has a culture you vibe with. You’ve found an exciting career and expect to move up the ladder in these years.
Even in your fifties, you probably still have over twenty years of work life left. The key to this career phase is not to stagnate. It’s important to keep updating your skill set through professional development and connecting with others in the field. No one will want to hire someone who believes they know everything there is to know.
Fortunately, by this point, you’ll understand the resilience you need to stay relevant in the field, you’ll have a strong network of contacts to draw from, and monumental shifts in the way business works won’t phase you.
It’s important to frequently reflect on your how your career is proceeding. People who make big contributions excel at setting reasonable goals and meeting them. They also have marketable skills applicable across a number of positions and know how to use their time wisely.