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When you were a kid and someone asked you “what do you want to be when you grow up?” what did you say? Astronaut? Marine biologist? Full stack developer for a yet-imagined startup company?

Maybe not that last one…

I asked this question as a connection conversation last week in my session on brain-friendly career planning at a technology startup in SF. It was a good way to illustrate that it’s really hard to imagine the future (especially as children) and why sometimes career planning can be a bit daunting.

Since it was a “micro session,” just an hour long, I didn’t want to facilitate information that you could readily access online—I wanted to provide some thought-provoking questions for participants.

An easy planning framework

For those of you who really haven’t put your goals down in writing, the best thing to do is to keep the process simple. There are a ton of 10-step guides out there, but over-engineering the career planning process means we are less likely to keep doing it—and it’s not a once-and-done activity.

Measure

What am I good at? What do I like to do?  Make a list of those things and update it on a regular basis as it changes.

Develop

What do I need to work on? What skills would I like to have that I see someone in my ideal role having?

Mentor

Who can I connect with who can help me get to my next role? Or give me good, unbiased advice on what skills I have (or need). Or would brainstorm potential roles with me?

Move

How to I grow into roles around my current organization? Either up in my current function, around the company in new spots, or somewhere else?

3 Questions

It turns out all employees have three key questions they want answered when thinking about their careers, according to the Great Places to Work Institute. Answering these questions provides certainty and direction setting, which reduces our natural biological instinct to be anxious without this information.

  1. Why does what I’m doing matter (what’s my purpose)?
  2. How am I doing?
  3. Where am I going?

As I was reminded by a friend in her early career stages, it’s important not just to get these from a manager or company, it’s important to also ask yourself these questions periodically.

Setting Goals + Motivation

Lastly, we covered a few pieces of science that help get those goals down in writing. The language you use when you write your goals matters. Depending if you are more motivated by “approach” goals, such as “I want to be promoted to a people manager role” or “avoid” goals “I don’t want to work in a role requiring a lot of number crunching” makes a difference. Positively framed goals are often found to be achieved faster and are good for long-term targets. Negatively framed goals are good for short term, urgent actions. We’re naturally inclined to focus on the negative, so having a balance of both positively and negatively worded goals helps.