News flash: No one is going to pluck you from the masses and help you rise to business stardom unless you make the first move.

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When it comes to your career, do you sometimes feel like a cork bobbing in a stream, going wherever the current takes you? Instead of relying on luck and hope, try taking control of your career by defining your aspirations and goals.

Whenever I ask people what they want to be doing in their career in five or 10 years, a typical response is usually along the lines of, “I’m not sure; I like what I’m doing now, but I definitely want to get promoted,” or “I’m sure that if I do my job well, my boss will notice and eventually promote me.”

Maybe — but maybe not. The popular notion that you graduate from college, join a company, go with the flow and hope that someone, someday, recognizes your skills and potential is false. News flash: No one is going to pluck you from the masses and help you rise to business stardom unless you make the first move.

One of the keys to achieving career success is to clearly define your aspirations. Begin by taking some time to answer these questions:

  • What were my childhood career hopes and dreams?
  • What are the things that are important to me in life?
  • What am I good at accomplishing at work?
  • What are the work things I don’t enjoy?
  • Three to five years from now, what would I like to be doing? What could I envision myself doing? What would I like to have achieved?
  • How would I describe my perfect job?

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It’s OK if you can’t decide on a specific career aspiration right now. If you’re new to your position, you could aspire to become a sought-out expert in your new job or to determine the next position you want.

Once you’ve written down your career aspirations, the next step is to identify your goals. Your goals are the steppingstones you will use to reach your desired destination. Keep in mind that the quality of the goals you set will determine their effectiveness.

One technique I like to use when creating goals is the age-old S.M.A.R.T. process:

  • S = Specific. Goals need to be explicit and detailed.
  • M = Measurable. Goals should have an outcome against which you can measure your progress.
  • A = Attainable. Goals must allow you to stretch yourself, but still be reasonable.
  • R = Relevant. Each goal must have meaning for you.
  • T = Time-bound. Goals must clearly define a beginning and an ending.

For example, a poorly defined goal might be: I will work to improve my skills. Using the S.M.A.R.T. technique, the goal would be: I will identify one area of weakness and, during the next six months, complete one class and read at least two books to improve my expertise in that business topic.

Like using a roadmap to arrive at a destination, having a clear list of goals will help ensure you’re headed in the right direction and end at the desired location (your aspiration) using the most direct route.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.