Defining Your Vision, Leveraging Your Network … Building Your Future

Jill Steiner, MD, FACC

Standing at what may feel like the "starting line" of your career, with great aspirations, boundless opportunities, and innumerable uncertainties, you may find yourself wondering just where to begin.

Many of us expect the path forward to follow the path we have already traveled: structured, planned, predictable. However, our professional lives are rarely as predictable as we may anticipate, or hope. Before jumping too far ahead, it is essential to determine your professional mission, vision and values. These can serve as your 'professional anchor,' giving you better control of your career journey.

As part of the Clinical Trials Research Program, ACC's Director of Member Leadership Development, Rosanne Nelson, introduced the concept of establishing a career action plan and drafting a professional network map. These exercises reminded me of the importance of being intentional with my career plan and those on whom I lean for support. Below, I will share main points from these exercises – I hope you find them useful in evaluating your professional journey ahead.

Writing a Career Action Plan

"Where do you see yourself in five-years?" is a tough question. These days, thinking even one year ahead can feel impossible. Taking a targeted approach helps define and refine a vision, while also establishing goals and the supporting metrics to reach them.

Career action planning is commonly addressed within professional goal-setting exercises. These typically include a self-assessment of strengths, development areas, training, education and planning needed support the path forward. Establishing a baseline of self-awareness juxtaposed with your professional aspirations is critical. Consider this your professional mission, vision and values framework. As opposed to an organization's mission, vision and values statement, this effort is intended to distill purpose, aspirations and values at an individual level. 

Ask yourself:

  1. "What is my sense of being and purpose?" (your Mission).
  2. "What do I aspire to be?" (your Vision).
  3. "What do I value in my career and within my future workplace?" (your Values).

Answering these questions will help you further outline your aspirations and align your commitments. I encourage you to start small. Make a list of short-term goals that are intended to support your longer-term goals. Break large goals into smaller, achievable steps. For each "action item," document specific steps required, potential barriers or constraints, and resources crucial for progress. Establish a target date by which you aspire to achieve each item and include a statement of how you will know you have reached it. Find an accountability buddy and encourage bi-directional support. Now you have a clear, bite-sized plan to help you achieve your long-term goals, and a support structure with accountabilities included!

Creating a Network Map

In creating your career action plan, you may discover the need to broaden (or narrow) your professional network. Consider where each person falls within your professional network and how you might reach them. Consider drawing your network on a page: start with a circle, "yourself," in the center. Add circles around yourself, in a spoke-and-wheel manner, to represent the people in your network. What does the visual show you? Who is included, or missing? What kind of relationship do you have with each person (supportive, tentative, fractured, new, aspirational)? How much effort is required of you to maintain each relationship?

Once you have created your map, step back and look at it. Ask yourself if your network is focused, intentional and meeting your professional development needs (short-term and long-term). Reflect upon whether it is diversified and accessible in a way that adequately supports your career. Think about what you may need to adjust and how you may go about making those changes. Remember that a robust network maintains connections who offer new information or expertise and who are influential in their sphere but equally accessible. Target those that have the bandwidth to provide mentorship and are eager to support your career development.

Like all great ideas, your career action plan and network map will need to be revisited at intervals to ensure you remain on track despite shifts along the way. Consider this process an ongoing, iterative effort. Your career journey is as unique as you. Take the time to consider your mission, vision and values. Assess your network to determine proper alignment and support. And, finally, establish a stepwise path to guide your journey beyond the starting line.

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Jill Steiner, MD, FACC

This article was authored by Jill Steiner, MD, MS, FACC, acting instructor, University of Washington. Twitter: @steiner_md

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