Don’t wait until you’re headed for the exit to plan your next career move.

The planning for your next career move starts today

Talking to a client recently, they told me they were planning to move on from their role in the next four to five years. A long time you might think to put aside thoughts of what comes next. My response is the opposite: even if you think you still have some years to go in your current role, it is never too early to start planning what you’ll do when you move on. Don’t wait until the day you pack up a box and leave the office to consider your future options. And when better to start that future career thinking than the summer holidays when many of us will be taking some time off to rest and recharge.

Love work: hate work

Of course, it’s one thing to say you’ll start to plan, but what does that process look like? Many of us are in roles we’re not happy with but have financial commitments to meet and so work is something to be endured. At the other end of the spectrum there are those of us who feel completely fulfilled and enjoy what we do. Most people are somewhere between the two: enjoying some aspects of the work but not finding it as energising as it could be and believing there must be something out there that is better.

It’s worth saying that if you’re in a job like that and you’re thinking of leaving, a good first step is to speak to your current employer to see what options there are to do more of what you find fulfilling and reduce those tasks that might make you look elsewhere.

Identify what you like

But let’s assume you will be leaving at some point in the future, how do you find that new, energising and rewarding work life? When I came out of my final corporate role, I went through a process that began by analysing what it is in my job that I really enjoyed and what I’d like to do more of. Similarly, I thought about what I really didn’t like doing – human nature sometimes finds it easier to zero in on what we’re not enjoying.

Then try to work towards finding the magic formula of what you enjoy, what you’re good at, and how you can get paid for combining both. Once you’ve narrowed that down, start to scan the world and see how others are using those talents, or what roles might use those talents. And then use that scan to determine your future direction.

Take your time

All this takes time. You have become embedded in your current role; you’re an expert and it can be hard to see a different future. Set aside enough thinking space to reflect on the possibilities. Too many get to the day before they retire or are let go and only then start to think about what comes next. Think of it as building a lifeboat: you need it to be ready to launch the moment you leave.

It’s a short life. It’s important you maximise the enjoyment of your work and don’t see it simply as a means to an end. Take control of your career. Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart said: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

What’s holding you back?