The Fortune 500 Insiders Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Today’s answer to the question, “How important is it to know where you want to be in five years?” is written by Alan Colberg, CEO of Assurant.
It can be overwhelming to consider where you’ll be five years from now. Who knows if a specific job, company, or market will even exist at that time? Rather than worrying about the future, it’s better to focus on how you can incrementally improve your career each day. Here are four strategies that I’ve found to be valuable and effective:
Never stop exploring and improving
Employers value people who are comfortable with change. Increase your skillset by continually seeking out new experiences. Look honestly at the areas where you have the least expertise or experience and confront them head-on.
By nature, I am an introvert. While early in my career I had no idea I would become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I did realize I needed to become more at ease socially. So I forced myself out of my comfort zone and got involved in public speaking—a skill that is essential to my role today. One of the ways I did this was by volunteering to help lead a fundraising effort to construct a new science and technology building for a local K-12 school. It required me to participate in plenty of social situations, such as giving presentations to large groups and conducting individual meetings outside of my daily work routine.
Pursue your passions
It goes without saying that you likely will be happier doing something you love to do. To make that happen, focus on activities that give you positive energy versus those that drag you down. Be honest with yourself about what you really enjoy, and make this a conscious part of your daily decision-making. Doing so will help ensure you stay on the right path amid change.
For example, I enjoy education and learning. So while I worked for Bain & Co., I volunteered as a trainer in almost every learning program the company offered. Not only was I able to help others, but I learned a great deal as well. Such pursuits often require you to take risks. Don’t succumb to fear of failure.
Cultivate personal relationships
Building and maintaining personal relationships is essential to creating new business and employment opportunities. You can find plenty of opportunities to do this during the day. For starters, I almost never eat lunch alone. Small group or one-on-one lunches offer me the chance to meet new people both internally and externally, build and maintain my network, and gain different perspectives that help me make decisions in both my career and personal life. And if I’m traveling, I make it a point to meet and catch up with one or two people I know in whatever city I’m in. It’s a great way to maintain relationships and enjoy myself at the same time.
Be a difference maker
I once was chairman of the board of trustees of a K-12 school. Each year I would have the opportunity to speak to the students about their future. My central message was this: No matter where you go in life, be a difference maker. Whatever you do, make it better than it would be if you weren’t involved.
I extended that sentiment to the workplace when I led Bain’s Atlanta office. We had several operating principles, one of which can best be described as, “Don’t complain, do something.” To illustrate, a receptionist was upset at how several recruits had treated her when they were in the office for interviews. Rather than just complain, she offered to provide input on how the candidates behaved toward her, suggesting their actions were leading indicators of their real personalities. It was a great idea that we quickly implemented by ensuring her feedback was part of our standard review of applicants.
Life is about the journey, not the destination. Having the right guidelines will put you in a position to grow daily, so that in five years you’ll be where you want to be.