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Article: Career Advice: You Can't Get There If You Don't Know Where You Are Going Related Resources

Career Advice: You Can't Get There If You
Don't Know Where You Are Going

by Ramon Greenwood

The young woman's face was a picture of unhappiness and worry, totally out of keeping with the 29th birthday she had just passed, as she described her predicament and asked for my advice.

"My job is driving me crazy. I am frustrated because I am not getting ahead," she said. "I want desperately to make a change, but I just don't know what to do about it." Her story was one I hear often from people at all levels of their careers. Henry David Thoreau could have had someone like her in mind when he wrote in "Walden" in 1854 that "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

I began our discussion with the root question: "What do you want to be doing five years from now?"

"That's the problem; I don't know," she answered. "There are so many things I would like to do, it's hard to make a decision," she said. "One day it's this, the next day it is something else. In the meantime, I feel like time is passing me by."

"Nonsense, it is never too late to take charge of where your life is going," I responded. "But you cannot get out of this hole you are in until you make a decision on what you want to do. That first step may be the hardest one to take. You have a lot of options, but you are afraid to choose one because you think you may pick the wrong goals and end up in another trap. You are frightened by the thought of making a commitment.

"And you don't really believe at this point you can plan your life for success. Other people do. Why can't you?"

I went on to explain that if she made a mistake she could always change her mind and set other goals. It is better to pick a target and work toward it even if it has to be changed than to continue to drift pillow to post, slipping deeper and deeper into frustration and depression. Long-range goals are basic to surviving and triumphing over short-range failures that are bound to happen. Four Action Steps To Get On Track We went on to discuss some specific planning steps--a road map-- she should undertake to get her career on track.

First, I explained, she should put in writing her goals for the next three to five years. These goals should spell out what she wanted to be doing in her work; where she wanted to live; what lifestyle she wanted; how much money she wanted to be making.

Second, I advised her to make a written list of her assets that could be applied to her campaign to realize her goals: her education, her talents and skills, her experiences, her likes and dislikes.

Third, I explained she would need to look at those two lists, side by side. This exercise would identify the gap between where she stood in terms of assets and where she wanted to go. She could see in black and white, graphic terms what she would have to do to close that distance where she was and where she wanted to go.

Fourth, she should lay out a map of action for her career, with specific actions and deadlines, to accomplish her goals.

Inertia Is A Deadly Force "Your biggest challenge is to break out of the inertia and get moving," I told her. "It is like you are caught in quick sand. Your frustrations sap your energy, so your attitude goes down the drain. Your present job suffers, which penalizes your opportunities to make a change. You put off taking action until tomorrow, next week and next month. Soon, you will be counting lost time in years, and it will be too late. Sure, that is a grim message, but it is also the way life is.

"The alternative is action, which is a great tonic. It builds on itself. Action will clear your vision, provide strength and confidence."

Will she get going? Only time will tell. Some who seek advice do take action and achieve their goals. Unfortunately, many don't.

It all depends on taking that first step of deciding what one wants to do with one's life.

David Sarnoff, founder of RCA hit the nail on the head when he declared: "Whatever course you have chosen for yourself, it will not be a chore but an adventure if you bring to it a sense of the glory of striving if your sights are set far above the merely secure and mediocre."

Ramon Greenwood, Senior Career Counselor, Common Sense At Work, is a former Senior Vice President of American Express. To subscriber to his f*ee semi-monthly newsletter and blog please go to

Ramon Greenwood may be contacted at or


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