“Instead of looking at the past, I put myself ahead twenty years and try to look at what I need to do now in order to get there then.”
– Diana Ross
If you’re in the market for career guidance, you could probably do a lot worse than following the advice of a hugely successful and award-winning music icon. I'm the first to admit that I don't have an awful lot in common with Diana Ross (I can't sing to save my life, for starters - and that hair!), but we do have something of a similar ethos when it comes to career philosophies. Like the Queen of Motown, I’m a big believer in having a ‘big picture’ career goal in mind, mainly because of how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of working life, and unintentionally spend years working, but without actually making any tangible progress. It's why I religiously make New Year's resolutions at the start of each year - I find having a bigger picture goal in mind incredibly useful, in both my personal and professional life.
Which brings me to a useful thought exercise I discovered a while ago, whilst flicking through Gem Barton’s excellent book Don’t Get A Job Make A Job. A collection of case studies of designers, entrepreneurs and creatives who’ve forged new and interesting business models, coming across Ms Ross’s quote a few days ago reminded me of a passage by architect Jimenez Lai, below:
“My advice is: write a few “fake” CVs for versions of your future selves – craft them, let your ambition run wild, project a few futures. No-one is watching, and there is no sense in feeling ashamed about these fake futures. I promise you, as you print them out and hold your plural futures in your hands, you will gain a deep sense of clarity about what you want to do and what you do not care to do”.
If you’re struggling to find a sense of direction or career clarity, why not take 30 minutes this week to write yourself a dream future CV (or three)? As Lai suggests, be completely honest with yourself about your career goals, even the wildly aspirational ones that seem completely out of reach. Think about what you want to be doing and how you’d like to be working in 5 -10 years’ time (or as far ahead as you can reasonably imagine – personally I struggle to envision where I want to be in twenty years’ time à la Ms Ross, but 5 - 10 I can kind of manage).
Some useful questions to consider might be:
- What skills do you want to be using most often?
- What kind of environment do you want to be working in? Do you want to be working as part of (or leading) a team? Working in-house? Running a small business? Freelancing?
- What kind of projects do you want to be working on? Big commercial briefs? Or smaller indie projects?
- Where do you want to see your work being displayed or consumed? And by whom?
- What do you want your average working day to look like? Think of this as a microcosm of how you spend your time)
Then work backwards, breaking your ‘big picture’ goal down into the individual steps you think might get you there – think about the skills you need to polish up on, knowledge or experience you need to gain, or the gaps in your network you need to fill.
As always, I find that committing your thoughts to paper is clarifying in a way just endlessly mulling them over rarely is - the first time I tried this exercise some months ago, I ended up surprising myself with a few latent ambitions I hadn’t really realised I was harbouring, and (importantly) identifying some of the changes I needed to make to my working life to help me achieve them. Hopefully you’ll find it does the same for you.