At some point and time in our lives we all want to take our career by the reins and take control. For some it may be a perpetual state of mind (good on you), for others it may be out of desperation. In either case, or somewhere in between, it's not something you can just wake up one morning and say, "I'm not going to let others dictate my career path any more." Or is it?
Decide to do Something
In productivity circles one of the biggest foils to progress is procrastination. The same thing applies when it comes to career action. You need to make the decision you are going to do whatever it takes to take charge of your career. No more waiting for that promotion. No more hoping to get a good review. No more praying you'll get recognized for the hard work you've been doing. Nope, it's time to put up or shut up. Making the decision to take action can be the hardest, scariest, and easiest thing to walk away from you've ever done. As you start to make progress though you'll look back and say, "What the hell was I waiting for?" Saying you want to make a change is not enough though. To succeed you need something more.
Make a plan
The late Sen. Fred Thompson in the movieHunt for the Red October is quoted as saying, "Russians don't take a dump without a plan, son," when referring to Capt. Ramius' plan to defect from the Russian Navy. If you take Ramius as executing on an extreme form of a career change (an understatement I know) then having a plan was the absolute requirement of success. Figure out what you want to do and what is in your way of accomplishing it. Do you want a promotion? Do the people who control the promotions know that? Has your work reflected your ability and capability to not only deliver on your current work but also the requirements of where you want to move?
Lay out the steps you need to accomplish your plan. Determine the players involved in decision making for your actions. Identify how you communicate your interests as well as your capabilities to the decision making powers-that-be. If you've already decided you're ready to take that step, this is your chance to validate that choice. This can also be a gut check to discover you may not be ready yet and find out what you need to do to be ready. Every great plan can run into problems, so as you plan you need something in addition.
Have a Backup Plan
I'm sure you've heard the "eggs in one basket" chestnut in the past. Think about your career aspirations as one big ostrich egg in one little basket. Now, hand that basket to someone else and close your eyes. Feel a little out of control now? That sense of anxiety is us allowing our grand career plan to be executed by someone else. For every step in your plan you need to ask yourself, "What can I do if this step doesn't work/happen?" Devise options for yourself. Be prepared with contingencies. Don't let the fragile thread of your determination be cut by one misstep in an overly complex plan.
Whenever someone asks me what their plan should look like I tell them, keep it as simple as possible. Think about James Bond. How many times has he escaped the overly complex plans to destroy him by megalomaniac villains in his movies? Simple, clear, concise plans have a much greater likelihood of success than the convoluted strategies that require multiple external factors to fall into alignment. In the planning and strategy world there's a term called analysis paralysis that can creep in here, where you keep planning but never actually get started. For any of this to be worthwhile you need to get going.
It's an old quote but one that is undeniably true. Rarely do good things come to those who sit idly by and wait. There is a small but significant difference between waiting and being patient. Only so long can you wait before the moment passes you by. Remember, it's not only you that's watching your actions. If you keep waiting for something good to happen based on others' evaluation of your efforts, all you are likely to receive is doubt as to why you don't have the initiative to go along with your work.
When you lay out your plan make sure you outline points to take action and points to measure the success of those actions. Additionally you need to follow with actions in case the first actions are unsuccessful or don't deliver the level of results you want. Yes, I know this sounds like it's getting more and more complex as you think about it, and that is true it can be complex but this is your future we're talking about, now isn't it? It can be discouraging when you think about all the things you have to do but you can't let that happen.
Don't get discouraged
Taking charge of your career is not a once-and-done thing. You're not trying for a new job or a promotion. You're laying out a path for yourself to follow every day, each step taking you not closer to a specific goal but along a series of experiences helping you grow and achieve both professionally and personally. There will be setbacks. There will be challenges. There will be people who, unintentionally or intentionally, derail your plans at times. What it all comes down to is who do you want to be in charge of your future? Do you want someone without your best interests at heart to be running the show or do you want to be able to look at that face in the mirror each more and know that's the guy in charge?