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Careers are marathons, not sprints

Your career isn't a 100-metre dash. It can take time to realise what you want to do

I take pride in that I always want to learn more, do more, or find new ways of doing things so that the path to the end state is easier to achieve or the process is more streamlined. I want to seek new experiences and grow professionally. And I don’t think I am alone in wanting to be the best that I can be instead of doing the same things in the same way, day in, day out.

I need to progress to feel fulfilled in my job and be better at what I love doing. I want my career to evolve and I want to be recognised in my field, so I’ll take steps to reach my aspirations.

I’m a firm believer that your career journey is a marathon and not a 100-metre dash. It can take time to realise what you want to do, then start learning, secure that job, and continue learning. You may realise that you want to go down another career path so you begin re-learning, secure that new job, do more learning and so it goes on, and on, and on...

I also need to be honest with myself and give myself a reality check about what I can be and truly want to do. Could I be the next CEO of Amazon? Probably not, I haven’t got the insight to create new business lines. Could I change careers and be a surgeon? Probably not, I haven’t got the stomach for it.

Those of us in learning and development support people to improve their skills, knowledge and abilities and help them realise their career aspirations. But when it comes to management and leadership development it is not down to us to create great managers and leaders. We provide the foundation and set the stage for people to prove themselves to be great.

I once made the mistake of filling a management development programme with masses of tools, techniques, models and frameworks that left some of the delegates overwhelmed with new ‘stuff’ that they had to figure out how to implement back in the workplace.

I realise now that I should have made my primary focus helping them to identify the priorities to learn. You can’t learn everything, address all development needs entirely in one go, and become an expert overnight.

Experience has reinforced my belief that ‘less is more’. Teach a selection of models, tools and techniques that are business-focused and a priority for your company. Let delegates practise and ensure that they leave with a clear and realistic development plan of what will be implemented back at work. Wide, generic statements such as “improve my communication” are not good enough goals. Be specific.

Embedding learning requires a change in behaviour and doing things differently. It is down to the individual to reflect on what they have learnt and how they will bring this to bear.

Sometimes people say that they cannot implement what they have learnt as their day job took over when they returned to work, or that they are under too much pressure to try new things, or their manager doesn’t support their aims, or they disbelieve a tried and tested model could actually work. In those cases, why bother?

This sort of negative reasoning should prompt you to consider the individual’s dedication and commitment to learning. Do they really have the level of determination required to reach their career goal?

Successful people will almost always find a way to achieve things. They keep going when faced with hurdles, and tackle challenges as best they can. If they don’t have the fight in their belly why should anyone else do it for them?

Catherine Rush is global head of talent and development at 4 finance