How to approach career goals in the next decade, according to an expert

Take a look back to where you were in the office in 2010.

Your office likely didn’t look like it did today. Open-floor space wasn’t the norm, cubicle farms were still in. Twitter was still getting its wings and Slack wasn’t even created yet. The office vending machine was stocked with sugary and fatty snacks and the coffee was likely bad, just not as bad as it is today. Your co-workers likely changed but maybe you didn’t.

Maybe you find yourself sitting in the same job as a decade ago, wondering if this is the year, the New Year — and a new decade — where change will guide you into the career aspirations you once had. Whether it’s asking for a new role within the company you currently work for or finding something from the outside, like a total career switch, it’s ultimately up to you to make that switch — and only you.

With 2020 here and a new decade of possibilities, aligning your career goals is a good way to either continue your track to success or finding the right path to get you to where you want to be professionally, says Nicole Wood, CEO and co-founder of Ama La Vida, a career and life coaching service.

Wood told Ladders recently she’s noticed a trend with where workers were in 2010 to where they are today in 2020. Due to the Recession in the late 2000s, workers were limited and had to play it safe due to a tough job market. But sitting at the same job and waiting for new opportunities to arise clearly is the strategy of the past. With the unemployment rate falling to a nearly five-decade low of 3.6% in April, it’s a job-seekers market and people have flexibility and control.

“The way companies have culturally shifted is really more fluid, less high-arch goals and the onus is really on the individual,” Wood said over the phone. “That’s a totally different mindset for people to not to think they only show up and wait and then their boss tells them when they get promoted. It’s if I want this, I have to create the path that’s going to help me find success but also that personal fulfillment and well-being, which is front and center in a new way.”

Based on her clients, Wood said she’s noticed how workers are seeking the feeling appreciation at their work. While Ama La Vita tended to cater to burnt-out business types, they’ve been handling new industries including teachers and people working in healthcare come to seek career transitions. It seems surprising considering those specialty fields tend to carry passion, but there’s an underlying theme that keeps reoccurring with those looking to make a change: organizational structure.

“If the organizational structure isn’t set up in such a way that their efforts aren’t being appreciated every day, they’re not going to be happy,” Wood said. “We are seeing people later on in their careers making really bold switches. We’ve been working with more people in their late-40s, early-50s who are still looking to reinvent themselves and they’re not going to ride this out to retirement. It’s important for them to feel like they’re making an impact. It’s been a definite shift that we’ve seen.”

Finding yourself in this situation isn’t the end of the world. Change is exciting and full of unknowns, but it only starts with deep reflection.

What workers can focus on in the 2020s

First and foremost, stop and be still. Digest what’s happening and where you want to go in the next decade, Wood said. While it might sound daunting to take a breather, it’s vital to reflect even if it’s never been done before. Reflection can help create clarity and motivate the decisions you’re about to make.

“The first thing is the reflection, starting to look inward before making those outward decisions,” she said.

Wood suggests asking yourself some of these questions:

  • What have I enjoyed?
  • What has brought me life and energy in my career thus far?
  • What am I uniquely gifted at?
  • What’s my purpose?

What’s Wood has noticed with some clients is maybe they were following a path because parents were influential with career choices, while others were on the pursuit to make money. But just because you reached that financial goal doesn’t mean you’re satisfied.

“If all of those things aren’t going toward the path you’re currently on, maybe it’s time to make changes going into the future,” she said.

And if you’re stuck…

Just because it’s a new decade doesn’t mean everything from the past disappears. But what a new year — or decade — gives you is a “mental shift and emotional feeling of an opportunity to start something new,” said Wood.

Reflection, again, is what Wood recommends to those who find themselves in a bad working situation, which will open up a conversation that can lead to something different. She also advised toward being diligent in goal-setting. With just 8% of New Year resolutions actually followed through, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook when no one — or even yourself — is tracking your progress.

Another path toward change is through mentorship. Find someone who has what you want and ask them the steps they took to get there, said Wood.

“Start opening up those dialogues because even today people think you get jobs from,” Wood said. “You get jobs from people in your network.”

Three quarterly questions

To further align with reflection, Wood advises her clients to create three questions that are important to you. Those questions vary for each individual, but by creating three questions to ask yourself every quarter, it keeps you in check and allows you to see if you’re still on the right track.

“Set up a recurring calendar invite for yourself, every quarter you have to answer those questions,” she said. “If the answers no, that’s a signal to them for a pivot or shift to change something as drastic as your career or maybe it’s just something different in your habit.”