About three years ago, I wrote a little e-book entitled Your Route to Cisco Career Success. Although it’s available in Kindle format from Amazon, you can download a free PDF of the bookHERE. Since the feedback from this book has been so positive, I thought it would be a good idea to share the main lessons from the book in a series of blog posts, along with some updated content.
In this blog post, let’s consider the first lesson the book teaches. It’s all about goal setting.
If you get into your car and drive for a couple of hours, making the occasional turn, and taking the occasional detour, you will end up somewhere. However, the destination at which you find yourself might not be where you want to be.
What if, instead, you predetermined your destination, planned your route, and maybe even entered your desired destination into your car’s navigation system? At the end of two hours, you would either have already arrived at your destination, or you would be on target to reach that destination.
The same thing can happen with our careers. We can just show up for work each day; chat with our co-workers; respond to any urgent demands (e.g. figuring out why a printer isn’t printing); and work on whatever project we’ve been assigned. While there’s nothing wrong with chatting with our coworkers, responding to urgent demands, or working on our projects, they don’t give much direction to our career, and there is relatively little growth involved.
This reminds me of a time when I was a network manager at a university. My director was considering giving a promotion to an employee in a different department than mine, and he was asking for my input in the decision. My director told me, “He’s got eleven years of experience.” To that, I responded, “No. He’s got one year of experience, eleven times.”
When asked to explain my comment, I pointed out that this person had been doing the same thing, day after day, year after year. There was no growth in their career. They hadn’t proactively sought out additional training or certifications. They just did the same things, over and over.
At this point, you might be wondering, “So how do I grow in my career? After all, I have to do the same things day after day. It’s my job!” My one-word answer to that question is, “goals.”
A clearly defined goal can give tremendous direction and motivation to your daily activities. For example, let’s say you’ve set a goal to become a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), and you’ve purchased a couple of Cisco Press books on the subject. One evening, you read about Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), and the next day at work you’re curious about how STP is implemented in your network. You issue a few show spanning-tree commands to determine which switch is acting as the root bridge. This teachable moment, where you gained a deeper understanding of STP, was a result of having a goal to achieve your CCNA certification.
To be a bit more clinical, when your brain focuses on something (STP in our example), it develops a sensory acuity to that thing (i.e. the brain is more likely to notice it). This means, if you’re studying a particular topic, you’re subconsciously looking for things related to that topic in your environment.
Also, you should strategically set short-term goals to pave the way to long-term goals. So, if you’re just getting started in the Cisco networking world, you might have a long-term goal of becoming a CCIE. That’s a very worthy goal. But since it’s so far off, it’s easy to lose your drive, unless you have very attainable short-term goals along the way.
Now, let’s get down to the business of actually setting our goals. Personally, I’ve been reading personal development material, including a ton of goal setting techniques, for nearly 30 years. The two personal development authors that impacted me the most are Zig Ziglar and Anthony Robbins. I’ve read their books, attended their seminars (including doing fire walks at a couple of Anthony Robbins’ events), and got to meet them personally. If you want an in-depth look at their goal setting processes, I recommend the following books:
However, I don’t want you to have to wait to get started. So, let’s look at a basic goal setting process you can take action on right now.
Find a comfortable place where you can relax and not be disturbed for a few minutes. Close your eyes, and take a few nice deep breaths. Now, think about how you want your career to look in five years. For example, if you’re 27 years old when you’re reading this, think about the 32 year-old you, and answer the question, “What type of position do I want in five years?”
Do you want to be in management, or do you want to be very hands-on? Do you want to focus on network design, or is implementation/troubleshooting more your style? Do you want to specialize in a particular area, such as route/switch, collaboration, security, wireless, data center, service provider, or something else?
Whatever you want your career to be like in five years, write it down. This is your long-term goal.
Step 2: Future Pace
Future pace is a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) term that refers to seeing future results as if they’ve already happened. As you think about your career in five years, vividly imagine that you’re already in that position. Now (here’s the really important part), look back over the “last five years” (i.e. the imaginary five years between where you really are and where you’re imagining yourself to be), and identify some of the milestones you accomplished to reach that level.
By seeing your future career as if you’ve already arrived, your brain will get super-creative and identify what had to happen to get you to that point. This imaginary game of “connect the dots” helps you identify the short-term goals you need to set in order to get to your long-term goal (i.e. your career in five years).
Identify the three most important short-term goals that work together to get you to your long-term goal, and write them down.
Short-term Goal #1:
Short-term Goal #2:
Short-term Goal #3:
TIP: Need a quick creativity boost? (Dude! You need a shower.)
If your creative juices just don’t seem to be flowing, a shower might help. (Seriously!) I’ve heard and read different explanations for this phenomenon (everything from a chemical being released in your brain to the white noise created by the water), but whatever the scientific basis, taking a shower does seem to stimulate creative thinking for many people (including me).
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been trying to figure out some technical issue, or trying to think of a creative way of explaining a certain concept to my students, when the answer comes to me in the shower. As strange as it sounds, if you’re in a creative slump, give it a try!
Using our packet routing metaphor of a goal being like a packet’s destination address, our first short-term goal becomes our “next-hop” address. After we get there, our second short-term goal becomes our new next-hop address. We then achieve our third short-term goal, and finally we’ve achieved our long-term career goal.
For now, since you’ve taken the time to identify your long-term goal and three short-term goals, let’s focus on that first short-term goal and make a detailed plan to achieve it. As you’re making your plan, ask yourself the following questions:
If you don’t already possess the skills or knowledge necessary to attain your goal, you obviously need to get those skills or knowledge. This might involve reading a book, watching training videos, doing some research on-line, or experimenting on actual gear.
Identify what hardware, software, and training materials you’ll need as you work towards your goal.
Are there experts (or at least, people that know more than you do about your topic) that you need to consult with? Do you personally know any of these people? How can you offer value to them as an incentive for them to help you?
An accomplishment goal is met when you successfully overcome a particular challenge, such as earning your CCNA certification. An activity goal is met when you perform a measurable activity, such as watching CCNA training videos for two hours.
Just like we took our big long-term goal and broke it down into smaller and more manageable short-term goals, we can take each of our short-term goals and break them into specific steps. Of immediate concern is what we do first.
One of the biggest enemies we have in our battle to attain our goal is the evil specter of drifting. By “drifting” I mean getting caught up in the flow of life, reacting to other people’s priorities, and not giving yourself the gift of concentrated effort. To help avoid this drift, set specific dates by which you will have achieved each of your short-term goals.
TIP: Create a mind map.
As you can see, the creation of a plan can involve many moving parts, and it’s easy to overlook or forget to include something. Something that I’ve personally found valuable when planning out a large project is to create a mind map for that project. A mind map is a way to visually organize the various components making up a project, and while many mind mappers have strong opinions about the structure of these maps (e.g. arguing that you should insert pictures and vary the fonts and shapes), let’s get you started with the basics.
You can start your mind map by drawing a box in the middle of a page, and writing your long-term goal in that box, as seen in Figure 1. You could do this with pen and paper or one of many mind mapping applications on the market today. I use an application called MindNode that runs on Mac OS X.
Figure 1: Putting your Long-Term Goal on Your Mind Map
Next, draw a line for each of your short-term goals radiating out from the long-term goal, as illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Putting your Short-Term Goals on Your Mind Map
Finally, as depicted in Figure 3, you can draw lines extending out from each short-term goal to represent the resources, people, and tasks related to that short term goal.
Figure 3: Listing Resources, People, and Tasks on Your Mind Map
A more thorough example is provided for you in the case study later in this posting.
At this point in your goal setting process, you’ve identified one major long-term goal, three complementary short-term goals, a plan for achieving your first short-term goal, and a timeline for achieving your goals. The missing ingredient is action, overcoming your inertia and actually doing something.
Do you remember Newton’s First Law of Motion? Even though Sir Isaac’s specific wording was different, the gist of it is, “A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest.” So, taking your first step is super important, because it not only breaks the inertia holding you back, it also creates the momentum that can lead to your next step, and then the next, and so on.
To illustrate the goal setting process, let’s work through the following case study.
You’ve been working in the IT industry for a couple of years, and after attending a Cisco Live! conference you’re inspired to become a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert in the area of Route and Switch (CCIE R/S). You decide to use the simple four-step process presented in this book to help you achieve your goal.
To make sure you’re really committed, you find a quiet room in your home and sink into a comfortable chair. After closing your eyes, you take a few deep breaths and are feeling very relaxed.
Let’s further imagine that you’re currently 27 years old. So, you imagine where you want your career to be at age 32. You think about having a senior IT position, where you are primarily responsible for network design in your organization (or maybe a different organization). With your eyes still closed, you can feel the pride of your CCIE R/S certification, as you visualize the plaque on your wall.
You think of the financial rewards you’ll received from being in the one percent of network professionals in the world who hold the CCIE designation. You realize in the back of your mind that reaching this high echelon will require extreme focus, effort, and determination. However, this vision of the future feels right to you.
Then it happens. You commit, and write down the following long-term goal:
“I will earn my CCIE in the area of Route/Switch within a five-year period, beginning today.”
The task of going from where you are now (i.e. being in the IT industry for two years) to your goal of being a CCIE R/S in five years is certainly achievable, but you need a plan. So, you take your major long-term goal and break it down into three (or more) short-term goals.
Note that the third short-term goal could be further broken down into sub-goals, such as:
Pass the CCIE R/S Written exam.
Your lofty goal of becoming a CCIE suddenly seems more real as you look at your list of short-term goals and sub-goals. So, you move onto Step 3, creating your plan.
You begin the creation of your plan by answering the questions previously presented:
What do I need to learn to reach this goal?
What resources do I have to have to reach this goal?
What people do I need to work with to reach this goal?
Are the goals accomplishment goals or activity goals?
What is the first step to reach the first short-term goal?
Buy the CCNA Complete Video Course, and commit watching the videos for eight hours per week.
What is the timeline for the achievement of your short-term goals?
With this schedule, you could take your make your first attempt at the CCIE R/S lab after four years. While you certainly hope to pass on the first attempt, statistically, it takes about three attempts for most candidates to pass. However, even if it took you three attempts, your first attempt could be 4 years from your starting date. Your second attempt might be 4 ½ years out. Your third attempt would be five years from the time you began your journey, right on schedule.
To help you organize the various tasks, people, and resources needed to carry out your plan you create a mind map, as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Your CCIE R/S Mind Map
It’s time to overcome your inertia and make that first step. So, you purchase the CCNA Complete Video Course from Cisco Press.
Since this book focuses on your success as a Cisco networking professional, this goal setting chapter is focused on setting a career-specific goal. However, you should continue your goal setting process beyond the scope of your career, so that you have not just a successful career but also a successful and happy life. Personally, I set goals in categories such as physical, financial, spiritual, relationships, and career.
In each blog posting in this series, I’ll be sharing a personal story to reinforce the lessons presented in that chapter. Here, in the series’ first posting, we’ve been discussing goal setting. This prompted me to dig out some of my old goal setting journals to see what my goals were years ago. Here are a few examples of what I found:
Do I believe any of these would have happened without setting specific goals for their attainment? Absolutely not. Having these goals in place caused me to make specific choices and take specific actions that would not have happened without these goals.
I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed this first posting in the Your Route to Cisco Career Success series, and I encourage you to carve out some time in the next couple of days to focus on setting your goals.
Kevin Wallace, CCIEx2 (R/S and Collaboration) #7945, CCSI 20061