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Looking backward to move forward

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
December 5, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 48

Credit: Shutterstock
Do you measure up to the goals you’ve set? Now is a good time to reflect.
Illustration of a person being measured.
Credit: Shutterstock
Do you measure up to the goals you’ve set? Now is a good time to reflect.

The end of the calendar year is a great time to look back and savor your accomplishments, appreciate how far you have come, and start dreaming about where you are going to go next.

But before you make that New Year’s resolution and start changing your life, take a few minutes to look back and make sense of your career trajectory to date.

Below are a few questions that can help guide that reflection.

Do you wake up motivated to work? When you get up in the morning, are you excited about going to work (at least most days)? Do you look forward to what you are going to be doing and feel satisfied and fulfilled at the end of the day, week, or month?

If you’ve been in your role for a while, have you been satisfied with your professional growth and the new tasks and responsibilities that you have been able to take on? If you are relatively new in your position, do you see a clear path to where you want to be?

If you’re happy with where you are and where you are going, looking back to see how you got there can be an interesting exercise. However, if you realize you really aren’t happy, clues from your past can help you figure out where you want to go and how to get there.

Does your career path make sense? Sometimes, your career path makes sense only in hindsight. You may have taken a particular course of study because you found it interesting, taken a particular job because it was your only offer at the time, or taken over a new task because your boss thought you would be good at it. But when you look back over your entire professional history, you can often see common threads.

Think back through your educational and professional lifetime, and identify the skills, activities, and subject areas you have gravitated toward. Were you always mentoring others, just in different subject areas? Have you always been a big picture person, leaving the details to others, but the focus of your vision has changed over the years?

Often, looking back allows you to see the bigger picture and how all your choices led to your current location. Your specific goals may have changed as your personal circumstances and values have changed, but there will be some common threads running through everything.

Are you where you want to be? If where you are is not where you want to be, now is the time to do something about it. If you realize that you’ve always been happiest when working as part of a team, but your current role is all individual work, do something about it.

Talk with your supervisor about changing your role and responsibilities to get more interpersonal interactions, less travel, more strategic planning opportunities, or whatever will make you feel valuable and satisfied.

The end of one year—and beginning of a new one—is a great time to reflect on your professional past and take the steps necessary to set yourself up for your future success.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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