If you want to achieve true progression in your career then you need to start reflecting on your career. We’re told to be strategic about reaching our goals – we need to plan, take action, keep putting one foot in front of the other. We can often forget to reflect on the twists and turns our career has taken to get us to where we are right now.
As American philosopher John Dewey says: “we do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience”.
Let’s take a look at why reflecting on your career is an important exercise.
When you’re in the thick of it, you can’t see it
“I can remember thinking ten years ago that my career makes no sense, “ says Catherine Garrod, Founder at Compelling Culture. “Only when I look back can I see how each of those experiences set me up for what I do now.
“Even the frustrating experiences have good outcomes. I can see how what I learned through those times really helped me get the next job that I loved.”
Catherine spent four years at Sky as their Head of Inclusion. She was considering her next move when Covid hit. This, along with Black Lives Matter, put her in a position where she began to understand how she can help more organisations. So Catherine took a brave leap to consultancy and now supports others to make bold changes. “I’ve realised I’m really good at empowering people and encouraging them in their confidence to create their own success,” explains Catherine. “If it’s on something we both really care about that’s brilliant.”
Catherine says that reflecting on her career choices means she knows she works best when she goes in, achieves her goal and then passes the mantel on to the next person to develop it further. Recognising this means that she can better control where she goes next in her career.
Join the dots
It is through reflecting, even if career choices don’t always make sense at the time, that we join the dots and better understand what we want and need from our roles. We can start to recognise the patterns and themes in our careers. We can then better recognise whether we need to move to a new role or start a different challenge. If like Catherine, we can see that we like to achieve one big goal per role, then we know when the time is right to start searching. Equally, if there are other patterns that appear in our career – we can use this to our advantage. A study at Harvard Business School finds that practising reflection can also increase your productivity – as well as increase confidence.
Rekindle connections and collaborate
Another benefit of looking back on your career is that you can rekindle old connections. This means you build important relationships with ex-colleagues and managers who themselves may be in new roles and companies. Reaching out within your network can help you understand the ways in which you like working. Plus, it can be a nice reminder of great work you’ve forgotten about. Or the work that’s made you feel satisfied in the past.
“When you build your network and collaborate with others, you get constant feedback. This means you are continually extending your knowledge,” says Catherine. She explains how she previously worked with her first clients ten years ago and so that good relationship was there.
Learn from mistakes
Getting feedback is great. It means we can learn from our mistakes and make improvements. What if you keep repeating decisions without realising? It’s easy to do. Reflecting can help you recognise when you’re repeating a mistake or making the same decision that hasn’t worked before.
You can then make changes which mean you do it differently next time. This can mean getting training or understanding the kind of culture you thrive in at work. Or it can be recognising when is the right time to move on in your career.
Tips for Career Confidence
These tips from Catherine are what she’s learned through reflecting on her own career and will help you gain confidence to make bold decisions in your own career. These are:
- Build your network
- Track your own success
- And when opportunities land in your lap, go for it because you’ll learn something.
Tracking wins is a great way to build confidence in yourself – and to make the next career move. “It’s all about telling your story,” says Catherine. “If you know the starting point for your job and then in six months, a year or two that company is in a different place – track this. Or you can use this data to look back and build the confidence you need to understand your worth.
Reflect and learn
Taking time to reflect on your career means you can use the value of hindsight to understand when to make your next move. It could be that you recognise certain signs and behaviours – or that you’ve reached your goal and it’s time to move on.
Overall, reflecting should help you see if you take the opportunities when they come along. If they were right for you or if you can take a lesson from it for the future.