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4 career questions to ask yourself going into the new year

A man holds incense sticks while praying during Chinese Lunar New Year eve at the Boen San Bio temple in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, February 11, 2021
Reuters/Fauzan/Antara Foto
Lighting the way.
  • Jackie Bischof
By Jackie Bischof

Talent Lab editor

Published

How can you be intentional about your career success going into the new year? Reflecting on the past year can be a productive way to set specific goals. Quartz polled five career experts on the questions you can ask to set yourself up to be more productive, focused, and happier at work in the year ahead.

How would you define career success?

Before diving in, it’s worth remembering that career success means different things to different people. Is money your priority? Or spending time with your family? Are certain benefits, such as pension or flexibility, important factors to you? It’s helpful to have an understanding of what your priorities are regarding career advancement, and to remember, as author Diane Barth writes for Quartz at Work, that “success is a process, not an achievement.” She adds:

“The point of success is not about achieving a one-time goal, after which you’re going to feel good about yourself for the rest of your life. Instead, it is a feeling of accomplishment that should propel you to continue the process. And the process is not a matter of material or even observable accomplishments. It’s an ongoing course in finding what makes you feel like you are working to be the person you want to be.”

With that in mind, here are three more questions that will help you focus as you think about what career advancement looks like for you in the year ahead.

When was I most productive at work this year?

Carving out some time to think about what went well over the last year at work is not only a mood-booster, but will put you in a positive space going into the new year. Coach and Quartz contributor Melody Wilding asks clients: “What were the stand-out moments of 2021, and why?” Having to reflect on “peak experiences” is an excellent way to figure out the type of projects and environments that bring out your best,” Wilding says. “When you know this information, you’re in a better position to optimize for happiness, flow, and productivity in the year ahead.”

Nicole Wood, CEO & co-founder of coaching firm Ama La Vida, suggests an additional layer of inquiry: asking what you learned about yourself over the year. “So much of the embedded reflections in performance reviews are focused on content and technical skills,” Wood says. “While those are important, it’s arguably even more important to ask what you’ve learned about you and how you operate. Maybe you’ve figured out that you really enjoy a new type of work, or perhaps you’ve identified that you collaborate best with certain personality types. These insights are invaluable in helping you to identify what you need to continue to be successful and fulfilled at work.”

You should file away these reflections in preparation for your next performance review, says D. Sangeeta, founder and CEO of the women in STEM-focused career growth platform Gotara. But she also encourages people to share key accomplishments with their career community, and families, as part of giving credit to yourself, and the people who supported you, for your hard work. “You would be surprised how much they would appreciate that,” she says.

What do I want to do more of at work next year?

Now that you’ve given yourself a pat on the back, and identified what gave you the most joy this year, it’s time to start thinking about the year ahead. “Businesses create operating plans for their organizations, you should create your operate plan for you,” Sangeeta advises. This could range from identifying the stretch project you’d like to work on, new skill you’d like to acquire, or people you’re interested in connecting with.

To nail down exactly what you’d like to do more of, Wood advises asking: “What do I want to feel more of?” Much of our experience of work relates to how we accomplish things, not necessarily what we are accomplishing. “Asking yourself what you want to feel more of throughout your day will help you gain clarity on where to spend your time and how you’d like to shift your environment,” Wood says. “Depending on your responses, your course of action could be as significant as changing careers, or as nuanced as a mindset shift you need to make.

Wood says that this question allowed her to recently realize that she wanted to bring a sense of lightness to her work. She set a goal to laugh more. “That realization and putting this goal on paper gave me permission to make fun and laughter a priority in my day and made a huge impact on my own wellbeing at work.”

This work is important, Sangeeta says. “You should give yourself a chance to be truly happy doing what you do. Whether it is the challenge of innovation, or problem solving, or working with brilliant people, or making an impact in the community or world,” she says, “it is great to have that focus and the happiness that comes with it.”

Who can help with my career advancement?

You are not an island, and your career and success are contingent on the connections you make inside and outside of work.

Career coach Phoebe Gavin recommends asking: “How might 2021 have been different if you’d had a professional support system to help you solve problems, learn, grow, and progress? A professional support system can include a career coach, but it doesn’t have to. A highly activated professional network, a vibrant community of peer professionals on Facebook or Slack, or even a trusted group of colleagues at your company can have a massive impact on your ability to meet your career goals.”

This community forms an accountability structure, Wood agrees. “Accountability can take many forms from things like calendar blocking, to creating a process to check in with yourself to hiring a coach. When reflecting on this question, think about where you’ve gotten off track or lost motivation in the past and envision a solution to prevent that from happening again,” she says.

The quality of your team dynamic at work has a huge role in this. “What do you love about your colleagues and how you work together? What do you wish were true that isn’t?” organizational psychology expert Liane Davey recommends asking. “Now, instead of waiting for someone else to change your team, consider what you could do differently to make it more likely that your team will be what you need it to be.” That could range from strengthening connections, to clarifying expectations, to airing issues, or resetting a relationship with a colleague. “Now is a great time to reflect on how you can change your team for the better,” Davey says. “Doing so will make it more likely that you get the team you deserve.”

If the question of who can provide you with support next year, both within your company and outside of it, leaves you drawing a blank, Gavin recommends focusing on how you can build that support infrastructure. “It can feel scary to put yourself out there. But it gets more comfortable the more you do it,” she advises. “Focus on taking small, consistent actions that help you feel more confident owning and expressing your aspirations. Most importantly, practice asking for help when you need it,” she says. “You’ll be surprised at how much progress you can make when you’re not trying to do it all by yourself.”

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