Three Steps to Turn Career Resolutions into Solutions

My gym is a microcosm of the junk heap that is New Year’s resolutions. I brace myself each January for the onslaught of energized exercisers, newly determined to make good on their New Year’s resolutions and finally make use of their pricey gym memberships. January is a nightmare of crowding, but I know from long experience, that by mid-February, we will be back to us regulars. How can you keep your career-related resolutions from meeting this same fate?

By the time you read this article, you may have already caved on your New Year’s resolutions. But there is still hope for 2017. It sounds counter-intuitive, but these three steps can help you turn your year-end career resolutions into solutions that will guide you throughout the year: think small, think specific, and think fast.

Think Small

We are always encouraged to think big, but when it comes to making career headway in the too-busy life of a lawyer, less is definitely more. Think of a small career step or two that you can take this year to advance your career. Why think small? A couple of small steps is much better than some big leaps, because small steps are achievable and motivating, and so much better for your career than big goals that never get beyond the page you listed them on.

Delivering three speeches at major professional meetings and asking to be the point person for three major client pitches sounds and is ambitious, but is it really feasible? Would signing up for a presentation training session be a more reasonable first step? Would the training help you hone your skills and make delivering one speech at a professional meeting easier, faster and more successful? A two-hour training session and a one-hour presentation are easier to fit into a busy schedule. Achievability is crucial if you are looking to advance your career.

Think Specific

Statements of intentions—Become a better speaker! Hone rainmaking skills!—can sound inspiring on the page, but they tend to fall apart when it comes to implementation. Specificity is essential to implementation and turning intentions into concrete behavioral changes. If you don’t have much time to take steps to enhancing your career—and you certainly don’t have much time, if you are like most lawyers—then thinking of how to translate your vague career resolution into an actual step is likely to elude you. The result? Career resolutions on the page, not in your life.

Start by operationalizing your career goal into a specific step or two you can take this year. Want to improve your leadership skills? One specific goal might be to learn Kenneth Blanchard’s simple Situational Leadership Model to adjust your style to the level of skill and motivation of the person you are managing. Another might be to take a more senior attorney who is widely regarded as a good leader to lunch and pick her brain for specific tips on being an effective leader. A third alternative might be to search for a CLE on emotional intelligence. All of these specific steps provide clear direction on what you need to do. Again, keeping it simple makes it much easier to implement.

Think Fast

The final key to turning career resolutions into real actions and solutions: select steps that are not time-consuming. In the ideal world, a six-week course in presentation or business development training might be best, but given the deal flow at your firm or the pending trial schedule during the next six months, a six-week commitment is likely not realistic.

What’s the expression? Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good? How about committing to one hour a month or every other month devoted to your career? Maybe a networking lunch with a client or a colleague in your practice group or at another firm, with a specific objective of learning time management tips or discussing how to get active in the Women’s Bar or the ABA Litigation section.

Using these three tips, a fast, small, and specific step or series of steps over time will add up to sure but steady progress in your career. Resolve to turn your resolutions into career solutions in 2017.

About the Author

Rachelle J. Canter is the principal of RJC Associates, which provides leadership, career, organization, and team development services to executives, attorneys and other professionals. She can be reached at

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