As practicing professionals, we can run a big risk of just putting in the work day-in and day-out without stopping to re-assess and re-align. Even if we have a few days off at the end of the year, most people rarely take a moment to really consider ways to start anew. And it’s important to assess what you’re doing (even if it’s not at the beginning of the year) because time moves fast and if you’re not careful, years will pass by and suddenly you’ll find yourself stuck in a rut, or you’ll make career changes and decisions without really thinking about the long-term results. That’s why I’m a big proponent of taking time once or twice a year to evaluate where you’re at professionally and plan your next steps.
And I totally take advantage of the new year as an excuse to really judge what I’m doing; what can I be doing; and plan action steps to make sure I progress. It may seem like a big ordeal but really it just takes a couple of hours, tops. It’s not really resolutions either—it’s a way for me to visualize what I want to do with my career in the long-term so that I don’t run the risk of years passing and suddenly realizing I’m still doing the same work.
Here are some questions I ask myself make sure I keep a forward trajectory:
One. What is one big goal for the year. I think of one big—yet doable—goal for my year in regards to work. Will I do more litigation this year? Have something published? Speak at a conference? Give more trainings? What can you do to supplement your skills while advancing your career? Once I have an idea of one big thing I’d like to focus on, I make smaller action steps to take to make sure I make this goal feasible. You don’t have to stop at one big goal, but I like focusing on one thing because then there’s little excuse to not achieve it.
Two. What are you doing? Seriously, ask yourself this and be honest. About three years into my career, I had an epiphany that I was filing the same type of cases and doing the same work I had been the year before, with little change. This really kicked me into gear to do something—anything—to make sure I was being more active in how my career progressed. I started doing more trainings, which has increased my public speaking skills (since I don’t litigate it’s not a muscle I often flex) and gave me more connections to the legal community. I wouldn’t have done this if I hadn’t been honest with myself and realized that though I was satisfied with my job, I needed to do more to build a better career for myself.
Three. What is life like outside of work? Look, if you’re trying to make partner, your work/life balance is non-existent. That’s just a given. But just because you are working hard and long hours, doesn’t mean you don’t 1) deserve a life outside of work or 2) your loved ones don’t deserve some your time as well. Take a moment to figure out if you’re getting/giving that energy and support to your family and friends. What’s one small thing you can change to make sure you’re still maintaining those connections with your nearest and dearest? It can be as simple as a standing lunch date once a month with a friend or carving out one day a week to devote to your family. What I did will seem laughably easy: I made it a point to email my mom once a week to check in on her and to tell her what I did that past weekend. Super easy—it took me twenty minutes tops, but this way I was in contact with her frequently and we knew about each other’s lives more than we had in the past. There is life outside of the law and you have to make sure you make that a priority as well.
What will your big goal be for this year?