Career Vision: Tools to Map Your Future

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"If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You'll Probably End Up Someplace Else" is a book by David Campbell that's been around for years. It's been some time since I've read it, but the title sticks in my mind because it's so catchy… and true!

There are a variety of different ways to plot the future on paper - sort of like using a travel guide or roadmap such as you would use to take a road trip across country. My husband and I have been members of the AAA of Wisconsin for years. We wouldn't think of driving anywhere of distance without having our trusty detailed maps within reach in the car.

Likewise with your career future. It helps to map it out so that you know where you're going - and when you've arrived. A simple visual I like to use with career searching clients is a Venn diagram. These diagrams usually consist of three overlapping circles, sort of like a round pretzel. Venns help you describe and compare the elements and characteristics of items.

Often I get very basic with people and have them compare just two elements - who am I and What is the Best Setting for Me in the World of Work? We place Who Am I in the circle on the left and World of Work on the right hand circle. The overlapping area we call Best Fit. The space on the left looks at values, skills, interests, passions and talents. The circle on the right is reserved to explore career opportunities in the marketplace - the context in which they would be working. Often career seekers are so outwardly focused, looking at job ads both on the Internet and in the newspaper that they neglect to explore much about themselves that would lead them to a work environment that would best suit them. Therefore, I purposely have my clients focus a lot of energy on exploring who they are.

There are plenty of opportunities to consider the job opportunities out there - but not knowing who you are and where you best fit will cripple the best of us - trying to fit our round peg selves into square peg job situations. So it's important to fill out as much detail as possible in each of the circles.

Another way to map your future is by starting backwards from the end point - where you're going. There are two wonderful maps we can use to plot this out as well. This process works both for those looking for career opportunities as well as for small business start-ups. It is useful to use these techniques after first working with the Venn diagram.

The first approach comes from Barbara Sher's book Wishcraft that details a process the author claims she found businesses using. For example, let's say that through the soul searching you did with your Venn diagram you discovered you want a job in customer service in the computer industry. Your map will look different according to whether you have any background in this field or not, but the steps will be essentially the same, no matter your level of experience.

Sher suggests that you ask yourself, “Can I do this today?" If not, what do I have to do first? In other words, you work backwards from your end goal of your customer service position. You identify each of the steps you'd need to take to get there, starting from your end point and working backwards. You plot this out on paper using words and phrases and circles and lines to connect each one of the steps you'll be taking along the way to your goal. You work backwards to your beginning steps, until you identify all the small steps you can start towards your goal today. The beauty of this process is that you do it backwards - from the end point back to the present moment. This alleviates questions you may have that will have you spinning your wheels because you don't know what to do.

An alternative to this approach is a Mountain Top exercise author Gail Blanke explains in her book titled In My Wildest Dreams: Simple Steps to a Fabulous Life. Here you draw a triangle minus its bottom piece to represent a mountain. At the very top of the triangle or mountain is the final event such as being hired as director of public relations for a cruise line. Each leg of the triangle is a journey you have taken to get to your end point. You plot out with the help of a friend or a coach all the steps you take along the way to get to your destination – the final career triumph. This process affords the individual two different approaches to the end point since each leg of the triangle is explored with entirely different steps.

Try using these suggested maps to plot your career future or you create your own visual approach such as clipping magazine photographs to create a collage “map" of your ideal future to hang in a prominent place where you will view it continuously. Challenge yourself to consider what sort of visual will help you most map out your future.

Whatever you choose— do it. Make a pact with yourself to visually represent your future so that you will know where you're going — and you'll get there with ease. If you have some favorite approaches that we haven't mentioned here, be sure to contact us so that we can pass this information along to others.

Melanie Keveles MA, CPCC, Certified Professional Life Coach. She’s a “dream champion, ” working with people who want to change career direction, start a business or publish a book. She’s available via e-mail at, by phone at 715-394-4260, or


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