What Does It Really Mean to Stay the Course in Your Career?

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Written By RobertMaxfield

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Any time you think about your current job or career, and you question the decisions you’ve made that caused you to arrive at this particular point, it may be easy to let self-doubt and negativity take over your thoughts. If this pattern of thinking is allowed to continue for any length of time you will likely find that it can cause you to lose sight of the control you have over your career, regardless of the present circumstances that may seem to be beyond your immediate power to change for the better. A mindset like that can easily become a self-defeating attitude, which will lead to further frustration and stall your developmental plans.

There is a common phrase that would be helpful to keep in mind as you reflect on your career and it is known as “stay the course” – and this refers to maintaining a forward focus without becoming distracted. However, any time you question yourself or the decisions made that now cause you doubt, it is an indicator that you may not really know what path you are on and you may not have specific career goals. This phrase is not meant to imply that you need to develop one path and stay rigidly fixed on that course without ever adapting when needed. However, it does remind you that your career progress is incremental and you are always learning and acquiring both knowledge and skills with every job – and your career is a journey that is defined by specific goals and a purpose or vision.

Establish a Career Course

The obvious first step towards regaining a sense of control over your career is to establish a specific course and you will do this by developing short-term and long-term career goals. Next, look at each job you’ve held as a step along the way and something you can learn from, whether or not those jobs turned out exactly as you had hoped for or planned on. Just because you chart a course and then stay focused on your progress, it does not mean you will always experience smooth sailing. It is very likely that you will face challenges, unexpected problems, and other obstacles throughout your career. You may even need to make difficult decisions and alter your plans because of a specific need. For example, many people take a job because of their financial situation – even if it isn’t their ideal job. But that doesn’t mean you have to remain in that position indefinitely. Establish a course and redirect your efforts whenever you find you are off track.

Be Persistent to Stay the Course

Once you have established a course or plan for your career you will be initially focused on that path, especially after you have just established or renewed your goals. As time goes on and work conditions remain the same, or circumstances change in an unfavorable manner, any intention you had to stay the course may be sidelined. The key to maintaining your momentum during challenging situations that may cause you to become distracted is learning to be persistent and never losing sight of the goals you are working towards. Everyone wants to better their career in the long run and for some people there may be a greater sense of urgency if they are presently stuck in a career rut or not making progress. What persistence means is that you are taking proactive steps forward and have clearly defined steps you are making towards your goals. What it doesn’t imply is that you become fixed and strictly held to only one plan. The route to fulfillment of your goals could require you to be flexible and adapt your actions along the way. As long as you know what your goals are you can change or alter the path when needed and still maintain your progress.

Become Self-Aware of Your Progress

For anyone who has made a plan for ongoing professional development it is essential to become self-aware of the progress you are making so you are ready to take action if you become distracted or veer off course. Developing a sense of self-awareness means that you are willing to accept where you are at now, without framing it from a negative perspective, and you able to act so that you can make self-corrections when needed. While it is important to know where you are going, by having a clear vision of the future you intend to create, you must also be aware of the present so you are looking for opportunities – whether this involves new job duties, a new position, a new company, or learning new skills. This will help prevent you from becoming too future focused and discouraged if it seems too far away and beyond your control. Your ability to reach your goals depends upon every action you take now and for those decisions made that did not produce the desired outcomes, determine what you need to do to or what you can work on so that your momentum forward does not become delayed.

You will also find it helpful to be aware of your strengths and leverage them to your advantage to bolster any deficiencies. Remember that an advantage you have is your ability to learn, adapt, change, and grow. Consider a person who wants to advance their career but they have held the same job for several years and are still responsible for the same tasks. The first step to take, even before charting a course, is to develop a clear vision of what it is they want to do next in their career. This is the only way to establish career goals – by clearly defining what the next set of responsibilities should consist of and what type of job would match those interests. From that point it will become easier to establish both short-term and long-term goals that will serve as steps to take in the pursuit of those new job duties. If your progression forward requires professional development then develop a mindset focused on learning something new. You have now begun to establish a career course to follow and you will become productive and proactive as you work on your goals.

Establish a Sense of Purpose

The example previously provided demonstrates what it means to establish a focused sense of purpose. If you want to or need to make changes to your job or career, develop new opportunities, or improve your current career outcomes, you need to develop a statement of purpose for your career so that any plans you establish can become a call to action and worked on as a series of goals. This will transform statements such as “I wish that one day… ” or “I hope one day that I will… ” into positive, proactive statements that begin with “I have a plan and I am working towards… “. To stay the course means that you have a clear plan, you are making incremental progress and building momentum with each short-term goal completed, and more importantly – you persist in your continued efforts despite temporary setbacks, challenges, or situations that are beyond your immediate control to reach for completion of the long-term goals.