Be Your Own Career Coach: Identifying Priorities and Uncovering Next Steps

Seen from behind, a woman hangs from the top of a wall on an obstacle course as she pulls herself to the top.

Special article by Molly DePasquale

Over the years in association polls I’ve seen, it’s been asked if your organization gives enough opportunities for publishing or communications specific professional development? The answer has always been a resounding “No.” This means you must learn how to become your own career coach.

This can be daunting, especially as the pandemic continues to shift organizational and personal priorities. Whether you’ve taken on new responsibilities or a new role in your organization or you just want to take a look at your own big picture, there is a lot of work you can do to improve your skills.

Once you’ve committed to becoming your own career coach, the very next thing to think about is identifying your priorities and uncovering your next steps.

So, what can you do to start being your own coach?

Start Small

First, find the smallest step. Very often, we’re daunted by the challenge. We want to get to the top of the mountain. But right now, we’re at the bottom of the mountain, and it just seems like it’ll take forever to climb up. But of course, the very first step is the most important one.

In fact, when most people don’t accomplish their goals, it can be attributed to failure in two main areas: getting started and maintaining momentum. Generally, getting started is the most difficult aspect.

This may be because some goals are more ambiguous than others.

Take, for instance, the goal of wanting to write a book. If you wrote on your to-do list “write a book,” that would probably feel like a pretty overwhelming goal to look at every day. On the other hand, if you wrote on your to-do list something like, “Write 10 pages a day,” then you would have the first steps you need to take along with the pleasure of being about to cross that off your list every day.

Break down your big goals, and start saying to yourself, “What’s the priority? What’s the very next thing I should do?”

Find a Mentor

Let’s say your goal is to pursue the dream job you’ve always wanted. What’s your first priority and next step?

Many career development goals have to do with either being introduced to someone (sometimes it’s not who you know, but who knows you) or getting someone’s permission, acceptance, or approval.

In pursuing a dream job, it’s important to first have confidence in yourself, but also to find someone who may already be working in that field who can offer guidance and advice as you proceed.

A mentor will help hold you accountable and will encourage you to keep your momentum going. A mentor is someone who can share their knowledge and expertise with you to help you set goals, fix problems, and make good choices along your career path.

Many people are intimidated at the thought of approaching someone to ask for help, but in general, people like helping other people. And when you ask for help, you’re essentially telling the other person that you admire them and their work.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially when it comes to taking a step toward achieving your career goals.

Relish the Moment

After you have taken even the smallest step, actually enjoy it for a moment.

Allow yourself to feel good because you’re realizing that the only difference between where you are and where you want to be is that you haven’t finished taking all the steps to get there.

You deserve to enjoy it, so take a moment to fully realize it. This is not to say you should pop open a bottle of champagne every time you tick off something from your to-do list. But relishing in the moment of your steps forward should become a healthy habit.

Reassess Your Progress Early and Often

In the whirlwind process of goal-chasing, it’s important to take momentary breathers. If you’re always sprinting from one check mark to the next, you’ll likely burn out before ever fully achieving your dreams.

Make sure to take mindful pauses after small and big wins alike, as well as missteps or failures. Take the moment to do a mental self-check; if you just had a win, pat yourself on the back, but if you’ve just experienced a misstep, re-prioritize and assess.

    • What did you learn while completing this step?
    • What do you need to do to prepare for your next step?
    • What are you proud of yourself for?
    • What went wrong?
    • Where do you need to focus on improving?

Don’t kick your feet up too long though…we still have a long way to go!

Understand the Shape of the Road

Everyone runs into obstacles. What’s interesting is how we deal with them. What is your reaction to an obstacle? Is your instinct to stop or keep going?

Think of it this way: As you begin the journey to achieve your goal, you may have expectations of the path you’ll take to get there. You think it will be flat, smooth, consistent, and safe. You imagine nice signs pointing ahead saying, “Success just 500 yards ahead. Just keep strolling down this solid, clean road.” We think the path to accomplishing our goals is supposed to look like this, and when it doesn’t, we think there’s an obstacle.

When we see an obstacle, we treat ourselves very differently. If there’s a road, we keep walking, but if there’s a sudden high wall, we stop in our tracks and are unsure of what to do.

Treat the obstacle as you would any other road. You just have to adjust to it and perhaps even slow down. Maybe you can’t keep running. Just keep walking. You can even crawl, but don’t stop advancing on that road.

Keep finding the small steps that you can take that will move you forward.

Molly DePasquale is the manager of operations and sales training strategist for DMTraining.

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