A career path, according to career coach Hallie Crawford, is a clear vision of where you want to go professionally—a long-term plan for a career that looks not at just the next year, but years and years ahead. “It’s what you are working towards and where you want to end up as a professional, in every area that’s important to consider,” she says. And it’s something you want to be proud of.
After all, you will likely spend one-third of your life—or a whopping 90,000 hours—at work, as some surveys and research have shown. With so many hours logged at our respective offices, “it’s important to enjoy and feel proud what you do, and gain a sense of accomplishment for meaning from what you contribute to your community or your industry,” Crawford explains.
But how can you build a career path you’re proud of? Here are the steps you will need to take.
1. Consider what fulfills you.
A career path you’re proud of is likely one that also fulfills you, says Crawford. “This means that your career path lines up with your personal and professional values,” she says, adding that, “it’s important to identify your professional passions and what you enjoy doing to ensure that you will still feel good about your career choices years down the road.” So, before you set out on a career path or carve a new one, be sure to identify what will fulfill you on the job and for years to come. Crawford suggests journaling about a typical workday to help you uncover what will satisfy you.
2. Envision the end, not the beginning.
Consider now Point A in your career path. What you need to envision, then, is Point B, much later time in your career—a time when you’ve reached the ultimate career goal. “You need to know where you want to end up so that you can make the right first step,” says Karen Elizaga, executive coach and author of Find Your Sweet Spot. Then, “following that first step, and keeping in mind what your endgame is, you can make strategic decisions about the next steps.”
3. Come up with a strategic plan.
You won’t get from Point A to point B with luck alone. Instead—now that you know where you want to be in 10 or more years—you will need to set “smaller and longer-term goals to help you get there,” says Crawford. To come up with a plan, she suggests looking at where you will need to be in shorter amounts of time—tell, one, three, and five years—to reach your ultimate goal.
4. Identify and use your strengths.
Along your career path, Crawford says you should ensure you’re using your strengths, talents, and natural abilities as often as possible. “If you regularly use your strengths—especially the ones you enjoy using—this means your career will feel less like work,” she explains. “It will be something you feel excited about doing every day,” and will be more likely to make you proud.
5. Execute with aplomb.
Not every job along your career path will excite you or propel you into your dream position. But, “no matter what the job—including entry-level positions—it’s important to do the job well,” says Elizaga. Here’s why: Doing so will allow you to create opportunities for advancement, as well as to learn as much as you can to inform your next steps,” Elizaga explains.
6. Advocate for yourself.
If you want to keep moving along—and up—your career path, “you need to let people know that you’re interested and deserved,” says Elizaga. So, be your most influential advocate. And if you need a little help or advice along the way, don’t be afraid to reach out to mentors. “Connecting with people whose careers you admire, or whose trajectories you want to emulate, gives you a chance to pave the way for yourself with some guidance,” Elizaga says.