Here’s a quick strategy for moving your career forward: decide specifically what you’d like to see happen.  Sound simplistic?  It is.  But I am continually amazed at the number of people who drift through their careers without a direction or compass, and then wonder why they’re not getting where they want to go.

What’s the difference between being intentional and accidental?  It’s like being the driver of the car versus being the passenger.  Here are a few comparisons/contrasts to illustrate:

Accidental:  “Well, I’m pretty successful.  I’ve been lucky that opportunities have been put in front of me, and I’ve taken them when they’ve come up.  I never thought I’d end up in this industry, but here I am.  And it’s alright.  Though I wonder what would have happened if I’d stayed in my old job a little longer.”

Intentional: “I took the first few jobs that were offered to me, but then ended up in a job I didn’t really like. At that point, I realized that the only way to make sure I was enjoying my work and growing in the ways I wanted to was to be careful of those situations.  I now make a list of all the things I want from my next job or two, and when an opportunity comes up, I check it against my list to see if it is a match.”

Accidental:  “I’ve had my nose to the grindstone this year and worked really hard.  Surely my manager will appreciate that in my performance review this year and I’ll finally get that raise I’ve been wanting.”

Intentional: “I’ve worked really hard this year, and made sure I focused on my written objectives. I’ve documented all my achievements for the year, have emails from colleagues and customers who noticed and appreciated the long hours I’ve put in, researched the current market rate for my role, and made sure to have some mid-year meetings with my manager to discuss my workload and solutions to get all the work done.  At my review, I am going to present my case and ask for a 10% increase.”

Accidental: “Wow. I’m so far from where I started out in my career — how did I get here?  I feel like I’ve lost myself along the way. I do my job well, but I don’t even know what I like or what I’m really good at anymore.  I feel stuck and I don’t know where to go from here.”

Intentional:  “I sat down last year and created a career vision for myself for the next 5-10 years.  I realized that to get there, there were some new skills I needed to gain, and I needed to make sure I was known in my company and industry for some of my achievements. I found an internal project to volunteer for that is helping me build the skills I need, and I proposed a new client service to group that is right in my wheelhouse.  I feel like I’m really aligning my actions, brand and strengths with where I want to go, and it feels good and achievable.”

Assuming for a moment that the old standby 80/20 rule applies here (80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, 80% of a company’s revenue is from the top 20% of customers, etc.), do you want to be part of the 20% of your colleagues who are proactively steering their careers in a meaningful direction, or in the 80% who just “wait and see”?  While I have absolutely no evidence to support this, I suspect that 80% of the promotions and raises go to the 20% of employees who proactively manage their careers. 

Do you agree?  What is your experience?