There are two kinds of drifting you can do in a car. The first is familiar to anyone who has ever played a racing video game or watched any movie in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. It’s the sliding you make a car do by turning the wheel and braking. The second kind of drifting is familiar to anyone who has started dozing off at the wheel and slowly moved out of your lane. Both are bad ideas (in real life) with the former having the single, redeeming quality of purposeful intent.
There is a kind of drifting you can do in your career. The first is when you see an opportunity to move in a different direction, but it will require a hard turn and aggressive acceleration. The other is when you stop paying attention to your goals and desires and just slowly move forward, increasingly off your original course.
While the former isn’t necessarily a bad idea, the latter most certainly is a poor choice. Like its aggressive driving counterpart, the first career drift has the benefit of being intentional. The second is the outcome of goal neglect, which like its driving counterpart, rarely ends well.
Avoiding the career drift that can leave your future in shambles requires an active schedule of checking your progress toward your short-term and long-term goals. This practice doesn’t have to be an obsessive exercise. It does have to be a conscious one. Here are some steps you can try:
Make sure you are clear on where you want to go and why you want to go there. We’ve talked about this before. Nothing leads to a wrecked career faster than moving without a plan. Note that I didn’t say “moving forward.” You are always moving forward. Moving backward isn’t possible. The only question to answer is: are you going over the same ground, back and forth, or moving in a new direction?
Check in on your commitments regularly. Performance reviews are excellent tools for planning your working year. Don’t let it languish as a tool for your manager to judge your effectiveness. Use it as your tool to plan your focus and activity. Check your performance to goals every third of the way. If you’re working on a 12-month goal, review your activity by months four and eight. If you work on a quarterly goal, check in at the end of each month.
As a general rule, the shorter the timeframe, the more important that first check in becomes.
If you find yourself drifting off your goals, take corrective action immediately! You wouldn’t contemplate if you should get back into your lane while driving. You would just do it. If you need help, enlist the support of your manager, a trusted peer or a mentor.
You may find that you’re drifting because you don’t like where you are going. Your original desires may not have been clear or have just changed. It happens. For the sake of your professional reputation, meet your goals (if possible) and determine what you need to do to head in the right direction.
It may be time for one of those intentional drifts.