How To Keep Your Career Goals in Times of Uncertainty
It is clear how changes have affected so many people lately with the economic crisis followed by the wave of involuntary attrition. This has created a chaotic situation where priority has become much more related to survival at work than actually developing healthy projects — such as to maintain a proper work-life balance, to take some time to improve technical skills or spend more time-sharing knowledge with colleagues. For expatriate talents, the situation is even worse, as being brave enough to move to a new country is now a situation that brings much more concern than courage.
But we know that life does not stop and happiness at work is a must for us to be minimally productive and deliver our tasks in a proper time. A research made way back in 2019 by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School already showed that workers were 13% more productive when happy.
So, how do you keep your dreams going forward for your personal projects in your career while living in a situation like that? Here are some tips that I found helpful:
1 — Set a timeline for your goals
It is always useful to create a realistic plan of how long it might take for you to make one of your dreams come true. However, with times of uncertainty, some might be better to be prioritized than others, and making a list and a timeline might help you decide which ones to start for now and which to work with in the future. For example, if you work as a data analyst, and you have two objectives:
- Improve your Python API skills; or
- Learn web scraping to practice text mining for your blog.
If you write a goal with the word ‘improve’, then the odds are that this goal would take way less time than a task starting with “learn”, where you need to create an ability from zero, and it might take weeks just for reading and studying before actually start creating content or adding to your portfolio. You may set “Python improvement” as priority number one and guarantee that you will have at least one complete expertise to add to your curriculum before starting to learn a new one — which could be a personal goal but not necessarily useful currently for your role. You might want to read more about prioritization tools that could be helpful to design this timeline, for the next few months and years. Also, it is better to focus on practicing skills that might not be just trendy but also help you be prepared for any role you might take in your career tree — in tech, for example, in analytics, engineering or science.
2 — Design smaller and smaller tasks
Following the idea of creating a timeline for each one of your activities, it is really important to create a path with simpler activities that you need to do before reaching the final greater goal. For example, it might be overwhelming to decide that you want to create three technical articles for each week, when you realize that it is necessary to take some time first to study a dataset, analyze it, reach a conclusion from what you extracted and then only start writing about your studies.
The idea of creating smaller tasks is not only to make the goal more realistic, but to track your growth during the process of learning, as in times we are not sure what the economy will bring, you will become more flexible to adapt your plan and review certain activities, making it possible to achieve your dream even if it is a long term project.
This will help you gain skills that are useful for your current or future role, as you will learn how to manage your own tasks at work and become more independent to deal with situations where the market changes and all projects need to be reprioritized.
3 — Use your skills (or develop ones) to gain financial stability
Depending on the situation of the country where you live at — or if you were one of the people that lost their jobs during the economic crisis, it is very important to develop a plan to save money or to invest in order to prepare for what is coming next. This is even more challenging for expats — compared to people who live in their native country — as you will have to spend more time studying about the local banking system, taxes and return on investment. What I recommend at first — in that case — is searching for an expert who can give you a first direction of your profile, how much you should save and where to invest.
If you already have data skills, you can explore datasets and challenge yourself to predict events within the stock market, so as to monitor on a weekly basis where to invest your money.
4 — Study a lot and share what you learn
It has become very clear how people started to prioritize less studying after the latest events of involuntary attrition. This is a huge mistake considering that spending more time working without improving your skills might bring you into two situations: not solving tasks at work as you do not develop the necessary abilities to do so; not evolving as a professional, losing track of the latest changes in your role and falling behind. Therefore I encourage you to find — if you have that flexibility at work, or by speaking with your manager — some time per week (at least two hours), to study and practice what you just learned.
Sharing is also very important — inside and outside your workplace — as you have the opportunity to:
- Gain visibility about your growth
- Guarantee that you learned after being able to teach others
- Increase your portfolio
These above are just three of many advantages that you have while you are developing your knowledge in your career. You may also find out how you will become more flexible with changes and new projects that you might have to work with, as you become a quick learner and prepare yourself if you also have goals related to becoming a senior or a leader in the future.
5 — Find a career mentor
I have to insist a lot on this topic, as I already wrote previously about Three Reasons Why You Should Find a Mentor. No matter in which position you are today in your career — from junior to senior — the path to your next goals are much more clear when you have another point of view, especially if it is a perspective of someone who has already reached what you look forward to. What helped me a lot, for example, was to find groups related to my area — for example the Women Who Code Data Science — and apply for a mentorship program, where I could find someone that works directly with the area of my current role and get tips on how to improve my technical knowledge. A mentor is also supposed to follow your progress throughout the next weeks — therefore this person might help you adapt when you need to change your plans or unexpected events happen. Therefore, I recommend that you spend some time searching for people who inspire you — for example through Linkedin, Medium or even podcasts, and reach out to them, to create the opportunity of learning from someone who is open to share about their career path and give you an idea of how to do the same.
6 — Keep networking
This is the last topic I am bringing and also wanted to make sure that it is recognized as relevant, especially in those times where we do not know what is coming next to the workplace based on the economic changes. As I said before about noticing people focusing more on work without self improvement, I also realized how it became more common for them to spend less time interacting with each other — inside and outside their workplace. It is understandable that “focus time” requires less time spent with other activities, however, I believe that time talking with other people might actually even help you improve your task results. Some skills do require you to do so, such as storytelling, where you need to understand who your audience is, what they think and how to share the results with them. Talking with people from your team or in other areas (such as non technical, but business or customer experience) might bring you a point of view you were not aware of and even provide you with feedback on how to improve your solution to certain tasks you are working with. At last, networking is essential for bringing visibility to you and holding onto just what you have right now, without sharing and learning from others, will not guarantee the stability you are looking for, as the times require more flexibility than ever.
I hope these topics made it clear on how it is possible to have goals and work on self improvement and career growth in times of uncertainty. I do recommend as well to reserve some time for you to read as much as possible about career development and creating your professional path. Learning about yourself and recognizing what you can improve might help you be prepared to adapt in situations where you do not have control. Here is one personal recommendation to start: Career Jump!: How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path. Have a great reading and good luck!