Everyone defines success differently, and that’s a beautiful thing. No matter how you define it, once you understand what success looks like for you—and start taking responsibility for the decisions that led you there—you’ve taken the first step to become the CEO of your own career.
What does that mean, exactly? Think of it this way: Everyone wants to make an impact, and everyone is capable of doing so. But when you decide to become the CEO of your own career, you find a way to make an impact that also feels incredibly fulfilling on a personal level. You just need to know where to start.
As you begin your journey, it’s important to break away from the “shoulds”—what you think success should look like, what others think you should do, and even what you think you should be—and align who you are with what you do. Take time for reflection so that you really, truly, know your passions, interests, and inspirations as you begin to create and follow your own path.
It may seem daunting at first—and it can be, especially if you’re considering a major career move. But it’s absolutely doable, whether you’re looking to change industries after decades in one discipline or you’re a graduating senior about to enter the workforce for the first time. You just have to know that you can, in fact, do it, and then move past societal pressure and figure out what’s possible for you.
Here are 9 things to keep in mind as you take control of your own career:
1// Supercharge your self-awareness.
Only you know you best, this is the time to get honest. Take down your guards or veneer—trust me, no one is looking—and fully understand your values, strengths, passions, interests, and aspirations. How do you want to be of service to the world? Take the opportunity to be introspective and embrace that moment of reflection. Because once you understand who you are, you can decide what you want—and, ultimately, how to get it.
2// Define what you want.
Name it to claim it: take what you know about yourself and proclaim it into a succinct statement. Whether you define the mark you want to make in your industry or how you want to be of service in the world, it’s up to you to decide how big or small you want this to be. The goal is to have a purpose bigger than yourself, that way you know what you’re working toward.
3// View challenges as opportunities.
There are a lot of myths out there about what is or isn’t possible. Just because you haven’t done something before or seen someone else do it, that doesn’t mean it’s not doable. As long as you believe it is, then you’ll figure out a way to make it so (plus, you’ll undoubtedly inspire a lot of people along the way). You need to model what you want to be true.
4// Create a roadmap.
You’ll feel much better once you create a roadmap to understand where you are and where you want to be. This helps you realize everything that needs to happen to bridge that gap in between, whether it’s garnering new skill sets or repackaging your resumé. You need to create some lights along your path to see how to move forward, and the bigger the mission you have, the more mini-steps you need to take to help you get there. Without setting those goals to hit, it can be really overwhelming to know where to start and how to stay focused. This will help you feel more confident along the way.
5// Stop seeking permission or approval.
Charting your own path is automatically going to be different from what everyone else is doing. So, if you prioritize someone else’s approval over your own learning, you’re sacrificing your own unique gifts and ability to break through. You have to do what’s right for you without caring what others think. Some people might not support or understand it, and your decisions may seem counterintuitive to them at times. But at the end of the day, you want to feel good about your decisions and have no regrets. It takes a lot of courage to be the CEO of your own career. You have to figure out what you’re really passionate about (and, of course, skilled at) and then release judgment from that—including your own.
6// Value follow-through as much as break-through.
There’s a myth that somehow having a big idea or talent is enough. Consider that myth busted! Passion is important, but you need talent, focus, and hard work (not to mention, the right circumstances) to make an impact. Most importantly, you need to stay in it to win it. Most people give up when things get “hard” but if you have your purpose clearly defined, your dreams will be bigger than your fears. And that will empower you to take the steps you need to realize your greatness.
7// Celebrate the mini-milestones along the way.
If you truly value growth and learning, then you’ll want to make time to reflect at the end of each day to see what you learned about yourself and/or others, as well as how to apply that moving forward. Dedicate key moments along your journey to share your progress. Quite frankly, most of the learning—and the fun—happens when you celebrate those milestones, however big or small.
8// For every goal accomplished, set a new one.
The best leaders are never done learning, growing, or evolving. Part of being the CEO of your career means creating new goals to keep you moving forward, while also keeping you stimulated and fulfilled. Continue to expand your knowledge base, skill set, perspective, creativity, and confidence —and get comfortable pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. You may have built up a great deal of expertise over time, but you’re not always going to feel like an expert. You become the beginner all over again when you learn something new, and while it may feel risky to put yourself in that position, in the long run, it’s actually a great way to get ahead.
9// Understand that your actions affect others.
While your own wants and needs are front and center on this journey (and rightfully so), being the CEO of your career isn’t entirely a solo mission. It also requires acknowledging the fact that your actions affect others’ abilities to accomplish their goals and realize career aspirations of their own. If you see someone else being the CEO of their role, it tends to have a snowball effect, inspiring others to realize that they can do it, too.
There’s an overall contentment when you start taking ownership of your own career. While you may not always be able to control the outcome with regard to the world around you, you can certainly control your actions and create a career you love. You’re in control of way more than you thought you were, and once you realize that, congratulations—you’ve successfully started to think like your own CEO.