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It’s your career. Take control of it.

How many of you graduated from high school and just showed up for a college class one day and therefore became a student at whatever university you chose?

Nobody does that. No, you worked hard to get the right grades, researched the schools you were interested in, and maybe even went on a campus visit. Then you applied and waited anxiously for the acceptance letter. Even after being accepted, you didn’t rely on someone else to pick your major, classes, schedule, or internships.

You didn’t allow someone else to determine your educational path, so why would you let someone else decide your career path?

A career path is defined as the way you progress in your work, either in one job or in a series of jobs. The key word in the definition is “you.” There is no standard career path. We’ve talked about that before. You cannot afford to sit back and do as you’re told. It’s not enough.

Research shows that a defined career path is one of the primary things millennials are seeking in their jobs. Sure, I understand the desire to know what you need to do to advance, but who are you letting define that route? If you are relying on your employer, or even your professors, you are in trouble, not because they mean harm, but because sometimes they have different motivations and ideas of what you should be.

What can you do to make sure you don’t become someone else’s idea of who you should be? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Know yourself and have an idea of where you want to go. It’s sounds silly, right? How can you possibly be on a path and not know where you are going? It’s easy and all too common. You start your job, just excited to be there, and you rely heavily on your employer to provide learning and growth opportunities. Then you wake up years later and think, “How did I get here? This isn’t what I wanted.” Leaving now is much more painful than it would have been, and, oh by the way, you haven’t done anything to advance your skills or network outside of the organization.
  2. Learn. Keeping your L>C is critical for success in this rapidly changing world, and it goes way beyond CPE compliance. Your organization, if it’s a good one, will take care of the technical compliance training, but it’s up to you to go above and beyond. It doesn’t even have to be formal learning. Read books if you can. Or if you’re like me and have a shorter attention span, try blogs. There are a ton of great accounting, leadership, and general business blogs out there. Create your personal learning network and use social media. Yes, you can learn through social media, it’s not all funny cat videos, afterall.
  3. Network. There’s a saying in business that it’s not what you know but who you know. I don’t think this is completely true, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. If you have only “networked” inside your organization, practice area, or speciality, you are missing out on great connections and opportunities. Get involved.

If you practice being intentional about these things, you can prevent waking up in someone else’s dream for you. And these things don’t just help out in the long run. If you want to switch jobs, it will help you and your employer right away. Employees who know who they are, where they want to go, and who are continuously learning and expanding their networks are happier, more productive, and ultimately more successful.

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