How many times have you heard or been told to be ‘present’ in the moment? Mindfulness proponents, performance coaches and sports psychologists will all assert that peak efficiency requires the sum total of a person’s focus right here and right now, blocking out extraneous thoughts which might deviate the attention from the task in hand.
There’s plenty of evidence, both anecdotal and empirical, to suggest that this is very good advice, and is equally applicable to your career. The speed at which the workplace is changing, due in no small part to globalisation and technology, means that in order to anticipate the future, you need to be able to lift your head up from the work cycle in the present.
So how do you future-proof your career given that the future is by its very nature, unknowable?
Take responsibility for learning new skills– and follow through!
The job-for-life era has gone the way of the dodo and now we are much more likely to change not only jobs but industries and entire careers. The opportunities to reinvent oneself today are virtually endless, so it’s important to look at our careers not from the standpoint of the organisations we want to work for, but rather the skills we want to develop. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling comfortable and safe within a large company, but to be ready for future developments, we need to be constantly taking responsibility for learning new skills.
The real trick here is finishing what you started. We’ve all signed up for courses here and there, only to give up within one session or not even download the first seminar. Be honest with yourself about your current schedule and how much you can take on: is it realistic for you to spend an extra 2 hours a night at your desk learning mandarin? Is that NED course really going to enhance your career in the way you hope?
Build your network
If, for whatever reason, your industry hits a soft patch in the future, the skills you have acquired over the years will only get you so far. In those big downturns, such as the finance industry experienced in 2008-09 or the economic impact of COVID19, your skills will almost always play second fiddle to your contact book. It is vital that you continuously build up your network of work associates on both a business and personal level.
Strong and meaningful human relationships are the backbone of doing business, so go to those events, make your introductions, follow up with phone calls and just be generally proactive about cultivating friendships. Often, it’s about giving first and sharing your time or expertise without asking for anything in return; it’s these gestures which define good relationships.
Think of the bigger picture
The minutiae of daily life can often absorb the entirety of our focus, but it’s now particularly important that we set aside time, however little, to assess the big picture and ensure we are on track to achieve our goals. You need to stick your head out from the parapet of corporate life in order to see opportunities as they arise or reassess your modus operandi. It’s all too easy to be pulled along in the fast current of work, only to realise much further down the line that you could have been doing things smarter and more efficiently, if only you’d had the time to reframe your methods.
Setting personal career goals is one such aspect of big picture thinking. Rather than making sweeping statements such as “I want to be CEO in 5 years”, break your aspirations down into much smaller and more achievable goals. Not only does this improve specificity but it also demands that you assess your progress with greater frequency.
Study the trends
Within your sector and more generally, global trends will affect how your business operates in the future. It’s impossible to predict every downturn or disaster, but we can all broaden our industry knowledge just by being a little more mindful of our media intake. Keep up to date on relevant news by reading to some of the top business blogs. Subscribe to a few relevant podcasts to pop on during your daily coffee run/dog walk/amble to the local shop. Keep an eye on your competitors: their successes, failures and key decisions being made. None of this takes a vast amount of time, but your new insight could prove invaluable to your business strategy.
Moving too early to anticipate a certain industry development is rarely as costly as being the last one to jump on board the ship, at which stage you might find yourself on the sinking variety.