If your career didn’t take off like you had hoped, it could be for several reasons. Your goals might have been unrealistic, or you didn’t make the right choices when you had to take a decision. Regardless of the reason why what you wanted to happen didn’t, it’s important to do a quick assessment and take it from there.

First, reflect

1 | What did you actually hope for?

Take a moment to think about what you actually hoped for, by when, and what success would have looked like to you:

  • What are your short-, medium- and/or long-term career aspirations? Define the time frame.
  • What do you aim to achieve with this goal?
  • How would you know you achieved it?

2 | What happened? (the facts)

Now look back at what happened. A good way to do so is doing a journey line where you place all the highs and lows that happened in your life and that led you where you are now. If you don’t want to draw this journey line, you can start listing all the events that had an impact on you. Focus on facts to start with.

  • What are your past successes? When did they happen? How did they happen?
  • What are your past failures? What happened before and after?
  • Did your personal successes and failures impact your professional life? If so, how?
  • Were there relationships that positively and/or negatively impact your career options?

3 | How did you react? (the emotions)

An important part of the journey we take lies in the way we responded to the events that occurred. Have we always been resilient, or have we let our emotions take over and control us at times? Go through the facts you listed in the point above and add in the emotional side of each, including:

  • How were you feeling before, during, and after the success/failure?
  • How long did this feeling last?
  • What patterns do you repeat over time?

Then, explore

4 | What could you have done differently?

Now that you have a pretty good image of what you really hoped for, what happened and how you felt, let’s look at what you could have done differently. When you think about your past, there are crucial moments that look like crossroads: you are in front of several roads, and you got to choose one. Some of them will look secure and fast, other more bumpy and dark. As you continue on the road you chose, you will quickly see if it was the right one or if you should have chosen a different one.

One quality that I found difficult to develop but that makes people successful is our ability to recognise that the choice we made wasn’t good, and to change it (we are sometimes too proud). Too often some people persist to remain consistent, thinking that consistency is the right approach. Consistency is too rigid. You’ve got to follow the flow and adjust to new information. So start exploring some of the questions below:

  • Do you have any regrets in your career so far? If so, what are they?
  • What choice(s) did you made in your past that were successful? What did that road look like?
  • On the opposite, what choice(s) didn’t work out? Where do you think they could have led you?

These questions are not easy to think about as regrets are not always very constructive, but they can help you draw a clearer picture of why your career didn’t take off as fast as you thought, and identify patterns to be more aware in the future.

5 | What else would you want to do if you don’t reach your goal?

Imagine that you don’t achieve your goal. What happens then? What is your plan B? Think about the question you answered in #1 about the purpose of the goal. What is the feeling that you hope to get? How else could you get that feeling? For instance, if you want to feel proud, how else could you feel proud? Link the emotions and the purpose to at least one other goal.

6 | What do you want to start and stop doing?

You know your exact goals and why, you know what happened, you know how it felt. You see that you might have taken the wrong road, and you might have chosen to stay on that road despite knowing deep down that it wouldn’t get you where you wanted. It’s time to takeaway some things to change that:

  • What do you want to start doing that you weren’t doing before?
  • What do you want to stop doing that you kept doing before?

These two questions are simple, but they are very powerful. Remember that change is what allows you to grow. You don’t do yourself any favour in being consistent: consistent people just show that they don’t take new data and information into account, while you do.

Now, create change

Take full ownership of your career and what happens to your life. The only thing you have control over is yourself, so don’t be too quick at blaming a lack of luck, or this other colleague or manager. I am a firm believer that if we set our mind to do something, we will succeed one way or another. To remind me of that, I often think about this quote attributed to Mark Twain:

They did not know it was impossible so they did it.

Now go on, change what you have to change, find yourself a mentor, and have conversations with people around you to also get their feedback and their help. People want to help, you just need to ask.