How Are You Going To Get to Where You Want To Be in Your Career?

[Post by Chuck Krugh, August 11, 2023]

In the last two blogs in this series, I discussed two career-oriented questions: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” – two difficult questions to answer. In this blog, I want to give you some tools that I have used to help guide me. In the universe of career planning, there are lots of books, tools and methods to help you plan your path. My purpose this week is to help move you to action!

A couple of the tools that I have used in career planning are writing and a simple chart.

A little inside info: You may be surprised to know that I was never a fan of writing. I hated English class as a kid. It has always been hard for me to organize my thoughts and then get them on paper, or in this case, in the computer. I can’t tell you how many times that I have sat in front of paper or the screen with nothing coming to me. Somewhat ironically, however, I have journaled most of my adult life – sometimes more and sometimes less, but I carry a journal with me most of the time.

The journal has been a way to capture thoughts, ideas, lists of pros and cons, grapple with tough decisions and make note(s) of some of the cool things that have happened in my life. You may be wondering why I am writing about this? I found that as I developed plans for my life – career, family, other events – it’s helped me to write them down. Most people think about how they might tackle these big life issues but don’t always take the time to make a written record of their thoughts. I have found a lot of benefits to keeping the journal handy and writing down my thoughts.

Like you, I have a lot of things going on in my life – work, family, friends – just to name a few. Thoughts come and go, but if I don’t capture them, then they may be gone for good.

Let’s get more specific about what to write. If we go back to the previous two blogs, I asked you a lot of questions – really important questions! In a journal, I would take a blank page and write the following question on the top of the page: What do you want to do when you grow up? This is an easy way to begin. Then, as you think about the question, start writing down what comes into your mind. Don’t try to edit it; take the raw feed and just write it down. You can always choose to clean it up at a later time. Those things that you are writing down are real-time, meaningful potential-career “puzzle pieces” buried in your raw feed. Don’t be afraid to just let everything come out!

The reason that I said to use a blank page is because it will take several sessions to get enough “puzzle pieces” to start to form a picture of what you may want to do. Those notes or “puzzle pieces” are the start of your career planning. While it may sound painful, it’s really rather easy – it just takes some time and discipline to do it. As time permits, take the next question and do the same thing.

Writing in your journal doesn’t have to be in long elaborate sentences or in paragraph form if you don’t want it to be. It’s your journal, and you don’t have to share it if you don’t want to. Mine is private, but I sometimes share it with my wife or my kids. It’s my collection of thoughts and notes. OK, enough on the journal…

I also use a simple chart. The point of this graph is to give you a depiction of what your career path may look like. Granted, the path I charted may seem a little overdone or exaggerated, but I’d be willing to bet that your career won’t be a straight line. To become well rounded, you will take many steps – sometimes not the ones you expect, but it will become your career path (and it may not be as bad actually going through it as you think).

At one point in my career, I had the responsibility for the beginning and for the end of production. Another director had the responsibility for the middle part of production. My team at the end of production was performing well. The team in the beginning was struggling and to turn that around, we were going through a big change in how we started assembling the aircraft. About nine or ten months into the change, the company wanted me to take on a program role for a new aircraft coming on line. It required me giving up my production responsibilities. I saw the program role as a step backwards, and I was not very happy about it.

This was one of those moves that you cannot refuse – which to me made it worse. I was so upset about this move that I began looking for other work opportunities. I did the job but wasn’t happy about it in the beginning. As I got into the job, I did what I needed to do and started liking the new technology and how the build process was changing; BUT, I still felt like I was being pushed aside. Fast forward about two-and-a-half years: I was promoted to Vice President of Operations with all of production under my responsibility. What I didn’t see or appreciate when I was transferred to the program role was that I was being prepared for a different task in the future. In the end, it turned out to be a very good move for me even though I thought it was the worst possible thing ever.

Back to the chart…Once you get past the zigzag line on the chart, each green box represents a potential job title that you need to pass through to get to the job you ultimately want to achieve. For me, it was company president. There were a lot of jobs I passed through in preparation for this role. The same is true for you. You need to identify, as best as you can, those jobs you may need to get through on your way to your big job.

The real work you have to do is in the blue boxes below the chart. Each box lists actions that will help you get there: identifying your Strengths and Weaknesses, assessing your training needs, and developing an action plan. These are all activities that will require you to be honest with yourself – no one is watching or listening unless you share. Be brutally honest with yourself.

Much like in the writing activity I described earlier, your answers will start to materialize in front of you. Your answers may not yet be fully developed, but they will be directional, moving you toward your goal!

In my career journey, I knew that I would have to get my MBA if I wanted to get to the Vice President level. To me, having that degree was a differentiator. To earn my degree, I had to go to night school while working my regular job. Taking classes at night required some additional planning and prioritizing, which laying it all out in the blue boxes helped accomplish. I identified the training I needed, I developed an action plan, and I achieved my MBA in three years.

Managing your career is an active exercise that can only be done by you. I can’t manage your career for you, but I can try to help you by sharing things that have worked for me.

Next week we will wrap up this series on personal career development.

See you on the deckplates!

Safely Execute High-Quality Work

President, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

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