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Map Your Career Path With Artistry and Wit

Declutter your career path by creating drawers for short-, medium- and long-range goals—it’s your essential step in moving ahead with professional goals.

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by Kara Baskin

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Let’s face it: While it sounds efficient in theory, prioritizing short- and long-range career goals is overwhelming. So many ideas and aspirations floating around your head during your commute, scribbled on day planners, or maybe emailed to yourself while sitting in a dull meeting! 

Yet you need a strong, clearcareer path Wouldn’t it be nice to have a simple visualization strategy to reveal where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re headed? Enter Allison Rimm.

Rimm left her post as senior vice president of strategic planning at Massachusetts General Hospital to become an executive coach, helping people find what she calls “soul-satisfying success.” She writes about formulating life business plans for clients in the Harvard Business Review, and wrote The Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life.

One of Rimm’s most popular tools is a Custom Life Plan Closet, wherein clients compartmentalize their goals as though reorganizing their closets. Consider her the Marie Kondo of life planning. The closet helps clients visualize and prioritize their goals in uncluttered short-term, mid-term and long-range buckets. In this case, it’s OK to put your dreams on a shelf.

Step 1: Pinpoint your mission. Your mission is your strategic plan or road map; this is the foundation on which you hang your goals. When thinking about your mission, ask yourself what you’re on Earth to achieve. What’s your purpose? What does success look like for you? Are you living a life in accordance with your values?

Step 2: Describe your vision. What does success look like for you? If you’re living the life you dreamed about, how does that unfold, day by day, week by week? Don’t judge yourself: Maybe it means running your own business in a glamorous office tower and working until midnight on an idea you’re passionate about. But maybe it also means clocking out at 5 p.m. to take a yoga class.

Step 3: Consider your guiding principles. Think about how you plan to comport yourself to fulfill your mission and achieve your career goals  Rimm calls these “words to live by.” What are your priorities? What will and won’t you sacrifice to achieve your vision? Her clients have often used terms like spirituality, loyalty, honesty or fun. Which words resonate with you?

Ask yourself: How do you best contribute to a group? When people seek you out for help, what do they usually want? You’ll get a vivid picture of your strong points.

Step 4: Take stock of your skills, talents and strengths. Take our career test by asking yourself questionsto jog your creativity: What’s the first thing you do when you enter a room? careerHow do you best contribute to a group? What do you feel compelled to do for others? When people seek you out for help, what do they usually want? You’ll get a vivid picture of your strong points. 

Step 5: Create priorities for activities. Moving to the middle of your closet, place your goals onto immediate, one-to-five-year, and long-term shelves. Rimm uses an example: Let’s say you want to become a star pianist. (Just go with it.) First things first, buy a piano. Find a place to practice it. Take lessons. In the mid-term, upgrade your piano. Seek out a higher-profile teacher. Network. In the long-term, write down your ultimate goal, whether it’s recording an album or playing at Carnegie Hall. Do the shelves look too cluttered? Too empty? Visualizing these goals will help you see if they’re reasonable.

Step 6: Put the wheels in motion. Time to take action. How will you implement your goals? Consider a few “quick hits,” or things you can do immediately—like inviting a mentor for coffee or ordering that new piano. Strategize about broader life changes, too, like waking up a half-hour earlier each day to practice or setting aside room in your house to play. And finally, list out the development tools and resources that will help you achieve your mission. Who do you need on your team? What resources do you need to make your goals a reality?

Rimm recommends revisiting your career plan (or reopening your closet) quarterly to ensure you’re on track. “Don't carry your dreams around in your head and hope they come true,” she says. Write them down.