In most organizations today, the idea of a “career path” has become more of an oblique concept than a clearly defined sequence of checkpoints. It is now rare that you will plug yourself in to a logical progression from associate, to manager, to executive, as new roles are often created on the fly for those who aspire to greater responsibility (and greater pay) within an organization. The key to forging a career path is really nothing more than proving you can be excellent at promoting the success of the company, and that you can be entrepreneurial even within an organization by identifying opportunity for yourself as it benefits the company at large.
In the past, setting out in a career was more about putting in the hours of work required to graduate from one clearly defined position to the next. Master the skills and duties of one role over a required period of time, and you should be rewarded with the logical next-step forward. This, however, may be a concept of the past. Previously, professional loyalty was more about the longevity of your commitment to a company. Today, though, that definition is shifting more towards the commitment to the underlying goals of the company. The ability to think abstractly to meet new challenges set forth by these goals is as important a trait as any.
Today, the best way to demonstrate your loyalty to an organization is to proactively identify specific challenges, and to work with your team to help the company meet those challenges. Becoming an entrepreneur within your company means establishing yourself as a dependable self-starter. Without stepping out of the bounds of the company’s best interests, it is possible to keep your own goals aligned with those of the company as you demonstrate your ability to independently define and pursue worthwhile initiatives.
The old adage that it is the journey that counts, not the destination certainly applies when it comes to thinking about your career path. Focusing on the small things and the personal relationships that help you do your job well will carry you further than doing whatever it takes to reach a specific destination. Though forging a career path today is more of an individual responsibility than ever, this does not mean that your peers and managers should be seen as adversaries. Hoping that your counterparts fail or leave the company is counterproductive to the goals of the organization, and will leave you missing an opportunity to learn from others. Develop strong relationships so that you can understand the needs of the organization on a deeper level. This will help you identify the problems that need solving along with the solutions that will demonstrate your capacity for leadership.
As the thirty-year career with a single organization becomes more and more uncommon, the 10-year plan has become more open-ended than ever. Establish short-term goals and be entrepreneurial about the success of your company. You may not know exactly where you’ll be sitting in 10 years, but at least you’ll know how you’re getting there.