The Career Strategy Framework, or CS7 Framework, comprises seven strategies with supporting mental models to shape your thinking and actions to manage your career. Understanding and applying the strategies can increase the likelihood that you will gravitate to a career you love, which is full of meaning, while earning the rewards most vital to you. By becoming a master strategist, you will live the life you wish for and use the most valued asset – time. This framework is influenced by many years of building software products and personal successes and failures.
Dedicated to my kids – these are “nuggets” that I have learned during work and personal life. Let these guide you when you make choices throughout your journey. There will come a day when I will not be here to help you – these will help you answer the question, “what would dad think or say”?
Load the mental models below into memory to guide your daily thinking and decisions
Strategy 1: KNOW Yourself
Each day there will be many choices of where to spend your time, how to show up, and situations that will test your inner being. There will be people who try to influence and confuse you with their agenda, and not care about yours. Life will get hard and you will need a compass to guide you through the darkness and tough choices. Staying the course for what you believe in will be tested. Internalizing your values will calibrate your compass and tell you when you are deviating from your path. You will be living your best life when you are practicing the values you have internalized. People will respect you when they know and see that your actions are aligned with what you believe in. Daily choices become efficient and authoritative. Know your values and seek people and organizations that reinforce your deepest beliefs.
People have often been thrust down a path based on the family they were born into or circumstances outside their control. They point to those as easy reasons why they are not living their potential. Over time, people accept the life they have been dealt with due to a lack of self-belief and clarity about the life they want. A growing self-awareness reveals that the life they accepted is a major source of their unhappiness. Envisioning and pursuing the life we want is one of the most important exercises we can do. Write a short story that describes your life in the next 6-12 months. Read the story over and over to build self-belief. Take control of your destiny, or others will do it for you. Our days are numbered – do it now.
Our identity is an invisible force that shapes how we feel about ourselves, how we show up, and what we are capable of achieving. As we wander through life, our identity can become enmeshed by the roles we play in life. A challenging day at work can leave us emotionally upset and impact how we feel about ourselves. Understand that these roles do not fully define our identity. Create and enforce a boundary around your identity to protect the roles you play from penetrating your inner peace and happiness.
We are all allowed to be anything we want in this short life. But the daily demands of life and a myopic view can take you to an unintended destination over time. Without an inspiring vision, you will wander wasting valuable time and energy and never quite reaching your full potential. You find yourself conforming to societal pressures or the forces of what other people think you should be. A deep and visceral connection to your vision will power your unique journey and mitigate the forces that shape a life of mediocrity.
Most people think they know who they are although, in reality, they are a mystery to themselves. The hustle of daily life and the apprehension of coming to terms with who we are and why we do what we do puts this self-awareness to another day. Evolving into the person we want to become is not possible until we understand who we are in the present. We need to know what aspects of our present self to keep and what needs to change to experience our full potential.
We are not controlled by our past or what other people think of us. But yet without a clear, vivid narrative of who we want to become, we remain in the status quo. The momentum of our current path narrows our vision of what may be possible. The daily demands of the urgent keep us focused on small tasks, limiting our investment in long-range strategic goals for ourselves. We are often seduced into short-term gratifications that expend our time and money, thereby committing us to greater costs down the road. We feel trapped in the present and the radiance of hope for experiencing our full potential dims. How we see and carry ourselves sets the benchmark for how others view and treat us. Internalize your future self and start living it today.
Our mind has a way of constraining our potential in life through negative self-beliefs, feelings, and emotions. They live deep within our minds and body. We reinforce them by looking for things that provide evidence to them. We are often our own worst enemies. These self-beliefs are real but are rarely true in reality. Embrace a cleansing process to free yourself from negative self-beliefs. The biggest loss for you and the world is not reaching your true potential.
As we go through life, we collect stories in our minds that ultimately limit our growth and happiness. These stories may have been true at some point (or not!) but no longer serve us. We have a way of accepting these stories as facts and they attach to us like barnacles. We carry them through everyday life and overlook how they cloud our judgment, and create blind spots. The stories can provide excuses as to why we don’t do not reach our full potential in work and life. We must adopt a mindset that explores and challenges these self-limiting stories. Detach yourself from these stories that are not accurate, while accepting our responsibility in situations where we blamed others.
As we go through life, we collect memories and experiences that shape who we are. This can feel like baggage that slows us down or prevents us from becoming the person we wish to be. To pursue your best work and operate at a true potential state, know what you need to leave behind to make room for the new life you envision. Failure to act and let go of the things that no longer serve you will leave you in the status quo of life.
Some of the smartest most successful people in the world state that who you decide to marry is the most important decision of your life. But yet, it can be a decision based on emotions and illusions in our mind instead of reality. We underestimate the influence that our partner has on our work life, and what we can achieve. Your chances of happiness and success skyrocket with a partner who shares similar values and character. The pain, conflict, and lower work performance await when you are in a relationship with the wrong person. The complexity grows when kids are involved. Think slow (not fast) when deciding who to take on the journey.
Know and Grow Your Self-Belief
Know Your Simple Story – Clarity is Memorable
Strategy 2: TARGET a Unique Opportunity
A “target” is a visual metaphor for finding your optimal career fit. It’s where you apply your time, talent, and energy to valuable customer problems with unique solutions emanating from your identity.
Having one line of work that is your only source of income should make you feel uncomfortable. Wealthy people have a diversified portfolio of income-producing assets that reduce risk and accelerate wealth. The reality is you are not going to be able to work forever. Think of yourself as a product that can package your unique knowledge into various products that can be monetized in different channels. This is the key to realizing wealth and peace. Do not commit to anyone or any one thing otherwise you lose all of your power, freedom, and influence.
One unit of work that produces a unit of output will not make you wealthy. Renting out your time only makes someone else rich who knows how to play the game. The wealthy understand that you must productize yourself and then scale unique knowledge non-linearly via the Internet to create the exponential curve that delivers wealth. Wage work may be required to learn unique knowledge, but it’s the owner that has the upside to getting rich. Apply your time, energy, and knowledge to a portfolio of targets that produce non-linear outputs such as wealth and happiness.
Your time is limited and what you learn using that time will significantly dictate your opportunities in life. If you are seeking wealth and peace, develop valuable skills that will provide a solid foundation throughout life. Understand that many subjects and concepts you learn in school and college do not translate to skills you can apply in the real world. Be selective about what you learn otherwise you are wasting valuable time. Developing rare and valuable skills that you will learn to love over time is a more productive path than following your passion.
The core strategy for wealth and freedom is a career path and value proposition that offers something different to the market that is profitable and sustainable. Following the crowd into common career paths offer no opportunity to stand out or demand high compensation. Each of us is radically unique shaped by our DNA, how our brains are wired, and our specific experiences. Use this powerful combination to target a path where there is a high demand for a unique solution that only you can provide. Aligning your work with your calling will power your greatness and inner peace.
The world is full of old-age problems and continually produces new ones that present opportunities for someone to solve them in new ways. As you travel down your path, deciding which problems you target will influence your achievements, financial rewards, and fulfilling your life purpose. Deciding what not to allocate your precious time and energy to open up space to focus on problems where you have something unique to offer. Big markets are not always better. Target the smallest viable market to change the lives of those people who can’t wait for your attention. Being everything to everyone is not a winning strategy.
Time is the most valuable resource of your life. Ideally what you want is a venture where you have control of your time, your product, and your creative spirit. Target a path (or one of your paths) and venture that is within your control. Letting others decide your work and freedom of expression will only disrupt your tranquility and constrain your freedom. Having an income-generating venture will give you options and the power to influence outcomes to your advantage.
It’s our responsibility to choose the organizations and jobs to which we allocate our time, talent, and treasure. There will come a time when external environmental forces drive the need for a lower-cost operating model with headcount reduction. Or political forces that seek to change the organization. The strength of your value proposition and political power will be tested and compared to others. It’s not personal, it’s business markets operating in the wild. Your job as a strategist is to target your talent where it’s essential to the mission and develop scarcity where you are the only one who can do what you do. You want to be indispensable. Create this leverage – it’s your job and livelihood.
Target Buyers with a Clear Value Proposition
Target the Right Environment to Thrive
Strategy 3: PLAN the Journey
Rome was not built in a day. Buildings are not constructed without a solid design and plan. The journey of your career and life is no different. Hope and chance do not deliver results – a strategic plan and hard work do. The decision to go down a certain path should be guided by solid reasoning and aspirations to be the best at your craft. Visualize your career journey as stops along the way where you gain valuable experiences that build on each other over time. Think of yourself as a dynamic product where capabilities are carefully sequenced and adapted to the needs of the market. Engage people you trust by sharing your vision of who you want to be and the potential paths to get there. This is a journey you can’t go alone.
There are rarely shortcuts to health, wealth, freedom, and a respected reputation. The most valuable things in life require long-term thinking and contributions that compound over time. In a world of instant gratification, people make the mistake of thinking there is a shortcut or hack to creating or accomplishing something truly remarkable. View your career as a marathon with aspirational long-term goals.
We are brought into the world with a clean slate and the freedom to dream big and become anything we want. As we progress through life, the pressures and constraints of life can often limit our ambition and what we can achieve. We conform to what society expects of us and accept the average thinking of the people around us. People who stand out and achieve unreasonable success plan the impossible with big a dream and aspirational vision. Their focus of energy, talent, and time on a clear goal makes the impossible a reality. They see “impossible” as “I’m possible”.
There are countless opportunities to pursue in life and allocate our precious time. Choice can be overwhelming as can mobilizing ourselves to realize an ambitious goal. But when we are driven by a calling or sense of mission to achieve a goal with a specific endpoint, a life-altering quest is born. The clear challenge motivates us to action. Our feeling of purpose is the fuel that keeps us until the quest is achieved.
You are ready for a career change but what you want to do next is not exactly clear. As opportunities come your way, you have ineffective means to evaluate them for fit. Only you know what is best for you, but the lack of clarity is delaying the transition. Write a short description of your ideal next opportunity. Give it to prospective buyers of your talent instead of them giving you a job description.
Plan a Transformational Experience to Accelerate Your Trajectory
Plan Your Bucket List
Plan Small Achievement That Compound to Big Outcomes
Our logical and moral view leads us to believe that our excellent work will speak for itself and earn us rewards accordingly. In most cases, this is an illusion. Great work is integral to realizing achievement and operating at our true potential, but it alone is insufficient. Differentiation in the “hard” measurable skills among talented people becomes gray as ubiquitous knowledge is available with a click of a button. Competition is intense, as is the ability to stand out. Like it or not, power is the invisible force that enables certain people to achieve outstanding outcomes in their field and for themselves. Shying away from developing and using power is career-limiting. Get out of your comfort zone to plan and act with power. Play or pay – it’s your choice.
Plan for Obstacles and Failures
Plan an Ideal Environment to Thrive
Plan a Routine
Strategy 4: LEARN Continuously
Learn by Doing
Given enough time, you can learn anything and everything. But the reality is that life is short and differentiating yourself from others means learning faster than your competitors. Your meandering to gain knowledge solely through self-experience will waste valuable years of your life. Engage mentors, those who have mastered their craft, to accelerate your career journey. The continual mentoring from masters will separate the winners from the losers.
Learn Through Self-Study
We all have blindspots – what is unknown to us, yet known to others. We lack an accurate view of how we perform or how our style is interpreted by others. People shy away from feedback due to their ego or the uncomfortable feeling when someone sees them differently from their internal perception. Successful people can be delusional about their capabilities and achievements. Even if we have constructive feedback for these high performers, they can make it hard to give that feedback and therefore we don’t. Winners actively seek feedback and see it as a gift they can act on to continuously reach new levels of performance.
The person who learns the most in any classroom is the teacher. Passively taking a course or reading a book is the first step. If you want to learn a topic at a deep level, then teach it to others. The challenge of teaching and sharing your knowledge will force you to learn the ideas with clarity to easily explain them to others. Thinking about the questions you will get from your students will identify areas that require further learning on your part.
In the early stages of life, it’s good to say “yes” as often as you can to expand your perspective and gain experience. But as a successful, driven person there will come a time when choice and saying yes consumes you. You live a life of the trivial many and not the important, meaningful few. Say “no” to everything until it’s a “hell yeah”.
The world is full of influences to drive your behavior to consume more and buy things you don’t really need or can’t afford. The financial burden of debt or long-term commitments begins to grow and constrain your choice and freedom. Your ability to transition to a more lucrative career path that requires a short-term investment may not be possible. You begin to make career choices purely based on financials that can negatively impact your growth and happiness. Successful people live below their means to acquire options, freedom, and long-term wealth. Freedom of choice will give you power and peace.
The constant appetite for wanting more and something new is a life of unhappiness. Once you acquire what you desire, you return to the dissatisfied state. Your work life may not be ideal right now, but be grateful you have a job and source of income. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Experience peace and happiness by learning to want what you already have.
It’s commonplace to believe that there is a single path to success that starts early with a specialized, narrow focus. Our minds are influenced by popularized stories such as Tiger Woods that started playing golf at two years old. The most effective path to success in any domain is not what you think. Generalists, those that have skills across a broad range of domains, are more creative, more agile, and able to make connections that create new meaning. Developing deep, specific knowledge in a single area increases the risk that you will be made irrelevant by computers and AI. Learn and gain diverse experiences to develop range and thrive.
Learn to Live in the Present
Learn Through Experimentation
Learn to Evolve Into a New Identity
Learn to Influence and Negotiate
Learn to Accelerate Your Transformation
Learn to Naturally Manufacture Happiness
Strategy 5: SELL the Value
The world is a competitive space, and it’s easy for your credibility to go unnoticed even if you think yours is impressive. Influencing the minds of people often takes time for key messages to solidify and associate them with your brand. Effective people continually “sell” their thought leadership in many forms such as writing, speaking, and how they carry themselves to build credibility over time and raise their visibility within the industry.
People that can influence our opportunities and success can have perceptions of us that are not accurate. These assumptions are often the result of biases or snap judgments that can negatively impact our personal brand. While we cannot completely control what others think of us, we can pick up on these clues and strategically “sell” to change perception. Identify critical stakeholders that are influential for you to reach your full potential and understand their points of view. Condition how they think through strategic and subtle messaging that engages people to be advocates for your success.
You have achieved career success but what got you here won’t get you there. People continue to see you how you have always been. Your persona has plateaued or is no longer relevant in a rapidly changing world. Re-creating yourself into a new brand is only part of the solution. Selling this new brand confidently with visible signs has a way of influencing people to believe in your new creation. The first person may be you.
You have become comfortable in your job and some time has passed since you tested the market. Although you feel confident, you lack insight into how the market has changed. You overstate the value of the skills or underestimate how difficult it will be to make a transition. You leave money on the table not realizing you are worth a lot more. Or you realize during a forced situation that your current employer is overpaying the market rate for your skills. Your relevancy and market value will remain a mystery until you lightly sell your product and see how the market responds. Continually test your relevancy – your life depends on it.
The world is a fast, busy place with people who have limited attention spans. Their memory of who you are and what you have to offer fades quickly. Your ability to engage them in your journey or what you are selling is dependent on the simple, interesting story you share with them. People remember unique stories and are captivated to help ambitious people reach their destination. Craft a simple story that tells people who you are and how you are going to deliver value to people. Be the hero of your own story.
Sell to Make Your Value Proposition Believable
Sell Your Exceptional Work to Exceptional People
Sell to Build Advocacy
Sell to Build Market Share
Sell to Manufacture Luck
Sell Your Ideas and Product with Massive Distribution
Strategy 6: CONNECT Intentionally
The most important relationship we have is with ourselves. In the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to lose our identity over time and become disconnected from what is most important. We become a mystery to ourselves unless we make time to reflect on the reality of our life. The continuous strengthening of self-awareness evolves our character into who we want to become. Our decisions are congruent with our long-term career and life goals. The risk from low self-awareness is that you may find yourself thousands of miles offshore wondering how you got there. You may never get back. Connect with yourself each day to navigate and stay on course to the next destination of your career journey.
It’s a fact that our life will end someday – that is out of our control. Each day is an opportunity to accomplish something meaningful with a sense of urgency. Embrace mortality as fuel to endure and work hard toward your reaching your full potential. The world needs your superpower.
Most experts agree that over 70% of all communication is nonverbal. Your ability to read and make sense of the unspoken will influence the success of your work and personal life. Listen and watch others with curiosity to decode the true meaning of their communication. Connecting with others through the unspoken will become a superpower that few people have.
If you are the smartest or most talented person in the closest group of people you connect with, you should feel uncomfortable. Your mind and behaviors will be influenced by the norms of the group. Your potential becomes self-limiting. Seek out relationships and workgroups that already operate at the level that you are looking to get to. Disconnect from people who waste your time or do not offer anything that aligns with your aspiration direction.
Connect with Your Task and Priorities
Connect with An Accountability Partner to Deliver on Your Commitment
Connect with the Realities of Human Nature – Your Life Depends on It
Connect with Your Partner
Connect with Mentors
Connect to Help Others Unconditionally – Pay It Forward
Connect to Prevent Others from Misunderstanding You
Connect with Relationships That Transcend Time
Strategy 7: DECIDE Consciously
Life is short and the reality is you can’t do everything. It’s also a highly competitive world where the focus of time and energy is critical to differentiating yourself from others. Your superpower comes from getting only the right things done. You control your time, energy, and financial investment. Your task is deciding what is essential to you, eliminating the trivial many, and then making the vital few things feel almost effortless.
Each day we make thousands of decisions that can reduce our productivity and drain our energy. It’s not realistic to function in this fast-paced world if each choice requires analysis and then a decision. Effective people automate as many decisions as they can and make the one decision that decides many others. The development of habits that support our purpose will automate our daily behavior instead of expending energy on choices. Failure to adopt a mindset that decides automatically will keep you mired in the trivial many and from realizing your potential.
Turning pro is free. When you turn pro is all up to you. It’s the Resistance that is keeping you an amateur from important work. As life passes you by, your hope of turning pro diminishes each day. All it takes is a mindset shift to act like a pro and leave the amateur ways behind you. Decide to turn pro and you will find the power to experience your full potential.
Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, stated that the most important choice in life is whether to concern ourselves with things external to us or things internal. Expending energy and time trying to change people and events we do not have complete control over is futile. People waste precious time fighting external battles when the path to peace comes from within. Decide what you can control to gain tranquility, freedom, and calm.
Each day there is a chance that our procrastination or randomization from others will rule our day. Without a clear plan that allocates our time to the most important activities, we lose momentum and daily deposits toward our goals. The act of visualizing our ideal day in advance has a way of strengthening our focus and discipline. We can then translate that into specific activities on tomorrow’s calendar to decide on a successful tomorrow today. This ensures we are investing in our plan and not someone else’s.
You are responsible for your career and life. Everything is your responsibility – what happens to you and what you take action upon. Yes, read that again. Therefore, it becomes critical to know what is yours and what is not yours. Think of your life as a property line – it’s either in or out. There will be people and organizations that may take advantage of you, and control your life when they see opportunities that will benefit them at your expense. If you appear weak, people will prey on your compliance to please, keep the peace and fit in. You will become resentful, live outside your integrity, and may experience other challenges including addictions and depression. Problems in your personal life will negatively impact your career and prevent you from experiencing your full potential. Problems in your work life that bleed into your personal life will influence the quality of your relationships and happiness. A clear set of boundaries will protect you from the unforgiving realities of human behavior, hold you accountable, and reduce conflicts in daily life. Decide your boundaries and communicate them to take ownership of your life. It’s the only way to become free and live this short life on your terms.
Decide With Discipline – Delay Your Response to Stimulus
Decide on When to Make a Change
Decide Your Habits to Deliver Outcomes
Decide Your Actions by Keeping Score
Decide Consciously in Context
Decide Accurately by Eliminating Cognitive Bias
Decide by Anticipating Change
Decide Your Next Job Strategically