Your Career Compass: Envisioning the Future

  •   May 3, 2017
  •  Mary M. Wheeler, Partner, donnerwheeler

In my last column, “Introducing Your Career Compass” I introduced you to the five phases of the Donner-Wheeler Career Planning and Development Model. In this column, I’m going to give you an overview of the first three phases of the Model: Scanning Your Environment, Completing Your Self-Assessment and Reality Check and Creating Your Career Vision.

Scanning your environment

Scanning or taking stock of the world in which you live will provide you with the information you need to understand your current world and to identify possible opportunities for your career in the future. Having a thorough understanding of the environment is absolutely essential before you can decide how to use your skills and experience in the most beneficial way, both for you and for society.

Scanning involves understanding the current realities in the health-care system and the work environment as well as the future global, national and local trends inside and outside health care and in your profession. Through the scanning process you become better informed, learn to see the world through differing perspectives, and are able to identify current and future career opportunities. We observe, learn about, and assess the world around us through reading, talking with others, and continuing our education, and through exposing ourselves not only to information and ideas from and about physiotherapy and health care, but from other disciplines as well.

Sources of information to help you with your scan include professional and popular journals, observation, all forms of media, friends and colleagues, and everyday experiences. The internet is very helpful in the scanning process; it allows you to read the news, survey the various professional organizations, have access to policy papers, journals and other resources. When was the last time you checked out Health Canada or Alberta Health Services to see what they are identifying as current issues and trends?

Consider your scan as a work in progress, something you continuously update and revise to reflect the changing environment. Scanning, therefore, becomes not a task to be completed at some regular or not so regular time, but rather an integral part of everyday professional and personal life.

Now that you understand how and what to scan, let’s do a “sample” scan of today’s environment. Health-care trends and issues facing physiotherapy and society across the globe include health human resource planning, the rise of non-communicable, lifestyle-related diseases, and an aging population.

Nationally, in Canada, an important trend is currently a very low unemployment rate among physiotherapists. Other trends include the opioid crisis and the physiotherapist’s role in chronic pain and chronic disease management, health promotion/preventative care and end-of-life related issues. Finally, scope and role clarity for physiotherapists and other members of the inter-professional team is an ongoing issue.

At the local level, consider what is happening in Alberta, your city and in your workplace—what are the trends there? For some this list will relate to changing staffing levels and staff mix in the public sector, for others the list may include issues related to contracts with third party payers, and pressure to obtain authorization to perform advanced restricted activities. Also the rise of multidisciplinary clinics, and independent contractor, rather than employee relationships with clinic owners is something to monitor.

Completing your self-assessment and reality check

An environmental scan is about looking outside yourself and into the world; a self-assessment is about looking inside yourself. You wouldn’t consider developing a treatment plan without a thorough assessment, and so it doesn’t make sense to develop your own career plan without a thorough self-assessment. A thorough self-assessment enables you to identify your values, experiences, knowledge, strengths, and limitations and to combine those with your environmental scan to create your career vision and identify the directions to take as you plan your future. And just as we seek validation in our patient assessments, so too should we also complete a reality check of our self-assessment. A reality check expands our view of ourselves through reflecting on others’ perspectives.

Physiotherapists must be able to recognize their skills and take the initiative to market these skills to prospective employers or to prospective volunteer opportunities, such as involvement with Physiotherapy Alberta’s Council or other committees, or with local Primary Care Networks or other health-care related organizations. You need to be able to articulate your accomplishments clearly and persuasively so that they also reveal your values, skills, and interests. That is what completing a self-assessment does; it involves giving yourself the time and permission to concentrate and look inward, to take stock, and to develop a personal and professional profile. Self-assessment requires considerable reflection, the ability to ask yourself some hard questions, and the determination to validate your responses with others. And, like scanning, it is something that has to become an ongoing process in your continuous professional and personal development. Self-assessment is about your personal qualities and special interests and about your professional knowledge and clinical skills

“Who am I?” includes your values, your knowledge, skills, your interests and your accomplishments. Values are a set of beliefs, the ideals that guide and give meaning to our lives and work. Knowledge is what we’ve learned through formal and informal education and through work and life experiences. Skills are the abilities and behaviours we use to produce results—what we do, and interests are those things we like doing. An accomplishment is created when you go beyond what is expected; you have identified a challenge, applied a specific approach, and had a successful outcome.

“How do others see me?” is the critical next question. Careful career planning requires feedback, both formal and informal, from managers, peers, friends, and family. Asking for feedback is not easy, but successful career planning depends on your being open to new ideas and perspectives. It involves listening and accepting positive feedback, acknowledging those areas where change is needed, and seeking advice about new skills that you may require and how to develop them.

Creating your career vision

Once you have completed a realistic and comprehensive review of your values, knowledge and skills and have assessed these in the context of the real world scan you have completed, you are ready to think about your career possibilities. What is it that you really want for yourself? Where do you see yourself going? Do you like what you are currently doing, believe it is a good fit with your personal life, and want to grow and develop within that role? Or have you learned that you enjoy change and variety and that it may be time to move on to other challenges within or outside your current workplace? Because your vision of your potential future is grounded in your scan and self-assessment, it is focused on what is possible and realistic for you, both short-term and long-term.

We all have experience creating visions for our personal lives—the trip we dream about taking, the home we dream about purchasing, or the hopes we hold for our family’s future—and we know how to put plans in place to ensure those dreams are realized. Yet when it comes to our professional lives we often avoid or resist dreaming about what could be possible for our careers.

If you do not have some idea of what you want or where you want to go, you more often will just be reacting to events as they occur rather than choosing a direction in which to go. Nor will you easily be able to recognize and take advantage of an opportunity when it occurs. Today, career success depends not only on having a dream but also on knowing how to turn that dream into a reality.

Two key questions should guide you in the process of creating a career vision of your ideal work. The first question—Where would I like to go?—functions like a warm up or brainstorming session. Blue sky thinking is at work here; no answer is wrong. What have you always wanted, but not needed. The second question—What is my ideal vision for my work?—provides more focus as you begin to create your career vision. As you answer this question, your evolving career vision should be influenced rather than determined by the data you gleaned from scanning your environment and completing your self-assessment. When you are ready, formulate your career vision in the present tense, as if it were occurring right now, and in as much descriptive detail as possible.

In the process you may come to a point where you say to yourself “I want to (fill in your own career vision) but I can’t because (fill in the barriers). Are these barriers real or perceived? The biggest barriers to creating a career vision are the perceived ones we place on ourselves. Real barriers can generally be overcome, but the perceived barriers or self-limiting beliefs have the potential to block us and our progress. They are the old entrenched beliefs that oppose a new idea. What we believe about ourselves and what could be possible are powerful determinants of our behaviour. Pay attention to these self-limiting beliefs, because they have the potential to inhibit your ability to create what you want.

Creating a career vision, followed by setting goals, developing a strategic plan, and marketing that plan can lead you to success, however you define it.

In my next column I will focus on these last two phases of the Model, Developing Your Strategic Career Plan and Marketing Yourself.