“So we have a new Chief Revenue Officer, and he set up a meeting to get to know me and share some ideas for where he sees the direction of Marketing.  And then he asked me a question – and I’m not sure if I answered it right.”

“What was the question?”

“He asked me where do I see my career going.  And I didn’t know what to say and I told him I’m happy with where I’m at.”

Heed the career warning of the Cheshire cat

I smiled. It reminds me of something the Cheshire cat said in the story of Alice in Wonderland.  Alice is wandering through the wilderness and comes to a fork in the road where she meets the Cheshire cat.  The cat asks Alice where she’s going and Alice responds that she doesn’t know.  To which the cat brilliantly responds – “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

I also smiled because I hear this all the time, especially from women leaders.  Like Alice, we often don’t have a good answer to this very important question.  We even misconstrue this question.  We think it’s a test of loyalty – are they trying to figure out if I’m wanting to leave the organization?  Or a test of arrogance – If I say I want their job eventually will they think I’m all high and mighty?  Will they get threated by my ambitions?  I should just be happy with where I’m at – right?

Yes and no.  You may be perfectly happy with where you are in the organization now, and yet, it’s important you have a sense for where you want your career to go in the longer term.  These aren’t mutually exclusive.  Thinking about the trajectory of your career is a both and, not an either or.

Being proactive about your career isn’t being pompous

“But I don’t want to be CRO.  The thought of it scares me.”  She went on to say.

But here’s the point.  The thought of it might scare you now, but what about in 5 years?  It’s one thing to do your due diligence on career planning and then say, this is the career path I think will be best for me, and here is a considered reason why based on research and sound analysis.  I like being close to the impact, I enjoy the execution and tactics more than the strategy and see myself more in a marketing operations role rather than a CRO role.  Fair enough.  But more often than not, we exclude things from our path because they seem too big or because of a fear of the unknown.  Or we worry about being perceived as overly ambitious and don’t want to rock the boat. 

Take active management of your career

Taking an active role in the management of your career implies just that.  I’m thinking about it, I’m working to create goals for the short term, the mid-term, and the long term.  I’m networking with folks at different levels it the organization.  I’m learning about what they do, what do they like about their jobs, what do they not like. 

I’m actively looking for a mentor, and perhaps even more than one mentor that I can bounce future oriented questions off on a regular basis.  I have a personal development plan that’s doing more than collecting dust on a shelf.  I’m revising it 3-4 times a year as I change and my goals change.  It includes development actions that I am tracking and reviewing periodically with my supervisor to ensure I meet them. 

And given that my supervisor understands my career aspirations helps to ensure they are also invested in my success and on the lookout for opportunities or stretch assignments that will help me grow into my future career ambitions.  “Why don’t you give this presentation to the CRO this time around.  You’ve worked on this project, and it will be good to get some practice on your presenting skills to senior audiences.”  Or, “How about you join this special task force?  It will get you some visibility in front of some high level people.”

There’s nothing pompous or arrogant about doing your due diligence and deciding upon a plan for your career.  It’s just good practice. 

Coaching questions for thought

  • How would you answer the question – Where do you see your career going?  If you can’t answer that question confidently, what do you think you need to do to get a good answer?
  • Do you have a personal development plan that includes clear development actions?
  • Are you having regular development conversations with your supervisor? If not, how could you start this practice?
  • How many mentors do you have?  If you don’t have a mentor currently, who could you approach?

Shelley Pernot is a career and leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their talents and step into their greatness.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!

  1. Marilyn Orr November 5, 2023 at 5:03 pm

    Excellent read!