The long and short of career goals

With COVID-19 still dominating such large aspects of our lives, it almost seems futile to focus on the long term in almost any context as the future and what it might look like is subject to so much potential change. From a career perspective this may seem especially true, given that the pandemic has compromised the full functionality of many industries and in turn, many jobs. In South Africa, the youth unemployment levels are at an all-time high – so in all honestly the focus right now may just be getting a job, or holding onto the one that you already have, not necessarily what you envision you career to look like either short term or long in the greater scheme of things, and this is completely understandable.

However, that being said – pandemic-enhanced tunnel vision can mean that we miss out on the bigger picture and some of the opportunities that this holds. Unfortunately in this regard, we may be our own worst enemies by indulging in our own cognitive biases. A cognitive bias is a “systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make.” So, how do our cognitive biases infiltrate our careers and how we make decisions with regard to them? For some, it might mean not putting our hands up when we think we might be the right fit for a project or promotion, the self-doubt that feeds our rationale that perhaps maybe we should wait before applying, or look to exceed rather than just meet the qualifying criteria. If we take a step back and really analyse where this rationale is founded, is it purely because we don’t think we fit the criteria, or is the greater cost here the potential for rejection?

Outside of this, do we consider our careers entirely incremental in terms of the next step up the ladder, the next promotion – or is there a greater goal in mind, and if so, what does this look like and what are the steps that need to be taken to achieve this? If you don’t have the answers to any of this, or if you have just been focusing on the ‘here and now’ that’s fine too. A mistake that we often fall into is seeking advice from those who mirror our opinions, rather than those who challenge them; this once again taps into our confirmation bias. Acknowledging that you may be the one standing in your own way career wise can be a bitter pill to swallow initially, but beneficial long-term. According to behavioural scientist and author of The Inclusion Initiative, Grace Lordan outlines seven career-building life hacks that can be used to mitigate these and can be incorporated into your day and week in order to put you back on track for your longer term career goals. These include setting a “big thinking goal” that makes you look further than your short term or more immediate career goals. By making a 90 minute weekly commitment to an action or activity that promotes these goals, you can hold yourself accountable to your medium to long term goals.

Other than these, Lordan advocates for circumventing fallacy, creating a diverse personal boardroom, “quietening the imposter syndrome” and embracing the spotlight, and acknowledging that your colleagues are also busy, so “ensure that your value add so noticed and rewarded.”