The One Move That Can Propel Your Career

This time of year, you may be making career resolutions, setting goals, or simply have a wish list in your head of where you would like to be this time next year.

So you vow to get a mentor, do more networking, and become an influencer on social media. You decide you will learn how to give, or take, feedback. You’ll be a more powerful negotiator.

Even if you manage to reach each of those goals (and you will be a rare person, indeed) the result still might not be the dramatic change you really want. A bunch of incremental changes may improve how much you enjoy your daily life or slightly boost your bank account, especially over the long-term.

But if you really want to be standing in a totally new place next year at this time, you have to go big. Instead of making resolutions about what you think you have to do or what you should do, make a list of one.

Create a single big project.

Designing a project–your own personal Big Hairy Audacious Goal–that will push you, build your skills and confidence, and get attention from higher-ups in your company and industry can give a big jolt to your career. Getting a handle on your inbox isn’t going to do that.

“The best strategy I know to get promoted is to have one big thing,” says Bozi Dar, a career coach and founder of Career10X. “To focus, starting from today, on something that will carry you to your next role and that you will get known for.”

7 Ways to Choose a Big Project

You are going to be putting a lot of time and energy into this project, so take the time to determine the best one for you. Review some options, and follow both your mind and your heart to choose a project that can both sustain your interest and get results.

The biggest career leaps come from projects that you are eager to start working on, and that scare you a bit, too.

Your instincts are the ultimate decider, but it might help to evaluate each idea according to the list below. The best projects will hit several of these points:

  • It is something your company needs.
  • It is something you are enthusiastic about.
  • It is something that builds on your strongest talents.
  • It is something that forces you to stretch or learn.
  • It is something that organically builds your network.
  • It is something that will get noticed.
  • It is something that helps others.
  • It is something you are committed to finding the time and resources to complete.

Now, Do It

The best idea doesn’t mean anything until it comes to life, of course. You need to make it happen.

A big project takes a commitment, so make the mental choice to get your project done. And then figure out what you will need in terms of time, resources, and support to do so.

Depending on how you work best, you might prefer making a rough outline or a detailed one, but you’ll likely want at least a high-level plan that includes milestones. You want to do as much as much planning as you need to focus your energy, but try not to get bogged down in doing so much planning or research that you delay your project or get discouraged.

Know that you’ll face obstacles, even fears, along the way, and when they crop up, simply recognize them as part of the process and keep going.

If your project has the potential to help your company, you will need to discuss it with your manager. Ideally you will work together to adjust your priorities and to draw on help you might need from other departments. But you’ll need to be careful, as you don’t want your manager to think you will neglect your current responsibilities, or that you are looking to grab the spotlight.

If the project is more about your own interests or a side gig, draw careful boundaries between it and your job. Your goal is to push your career higher, not to sabotage it.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.