On Sunday night in LA, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar. He was first nominated for an Academy Award at the age of 20 for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. He was always keen on taking challenging roles rather than going for the stereotypical good looking male lead in a Romcom in order to further his career, but he was catapulted into stardom by the hit Titanic and perfected his craft with Gangs of New York and Catch Me If You Can. And yet each time he was nominated (5 times before this year) the Oscar eluded him.
It would have been easy for DiCaprio to have become disillusioned, turning his back on the industry. He could have felt that the academy (and therefore those working within it) did not value him and have gone ‘off the rails’. He could have even decided to set about winning an Oscar by choosing roles based purely on their likelihood of winning awards. He did none of that. He diligently steered his career, focusing on partnering with those people who would add value to him as a performer (for example, Martin Scorsese), projects that would push him (his role in Django Unchained) and creating a perception that not only is he a great actor, but a genuinely nice guy. All of this combined to create success. Not only did he win the Oscar, he added to that a Golden Globe, a Bafta and countless other prizes. Leonardo DiCaprio is a man at the top of his game; arguably THE leading actor of his generation and one who can now have his pick of any role.
This level of career planning is not something that is only open to Hollywood royalty. Everyone can be the master of their own career destiny.
When you’re setting career goals, it is absolutely vital that they’re not aimed so high that they’re completely unachievable within the timeframe that you have set. If you make this mistake, you will soon become demotivated because you will never feel as though you’re making any progress towards your goals. You should also ensure that you know exactly what you need to do to achieve your goals – for example would additional training or qualifications help, or taking on some additional tasks, or asking to join a particular project team where you will learn some new skills? It can also be good to set some measures and milestones, as this can allow you to see your progress – which can be very highly motivating and enable you to support any claim you may have to a promotion or new role.
Setting goals for your career can feel like a very personal journey, however this doesn’t mean that your friends and family can’t help you along the way. Even if they might not be able to do anything practical relating to your career, sharing your plans means that they will be able to support you and cheer you on so that you never feel alone – and this can really help to keep your motivation high when you might feel it slipping at times, especially when things may be stressful at work.
Be positive, focused and patient – because your mind-set really is half of the battle when it comes to meeting goals and progressing in your career. It is important that you are making decisions because they are best for your career, rather than because you’re panicking about something, such as running out of time or financial pressures. Remaining confident in your own abilities and visualising how you will feel when you achieve your goals should prevent help you from falling behind and losing motivation.
Here are some ways you can position yourself for career progression:
Think about the broader opportunities that are available to you throughout your career. It is important to know not just where you’re aiming now, but where you could potentially be aiming in the future. Knowing where your current role could lead you can help you to understand what is realistic and what might not be. For example an early career in teaching or accountancy can open the doors to many different types of roles at where your skills provide a great foundation. A career in the military or public sector can also lead to many new career alternatives. An opportunity to take a sideways move rather than a promotion can often strengthen your CV and lead to new types of career opportunities. However if your dream job involves working in another country then it’s likely that you will have to learn a foreign language or gain a specific qualification to do so.
Once you know where you could be heading, it is important that you make a plan. A career map is the perfect choice for this. You should map out your past as well as your future, as it can often be really helpful to see how far you have come – as this can motivate you to see how much further you could still go.
Review your plan every year, because even small changes in your working situation could make you change your mind about where you really want to be, or open up new career paths. If you sit down once a year and reflect on the previous year, how you felt about your role, and how you would like to develop it, you should be able to gain direction regarding next steps and future career options.
Think about the positives and negatives in your life. No matter what life stage we’re at, there will be things that we feel good about, and others that aren’t so great. If you make a list of the good points and bad points of life right now, you will soon start to see trends, including whether your career mostly falls into one category or the other. Writing it down this way can sometimes help you to recognise that you actually don’t enjoy the career you’ve chosen, often an uncomfortable truth, but at least by acknowledging this you can begin to make a plan to change things.
These are all steps that anyone can take and the important thing is to stay in control of your career and not be afraid to adapt as your situation changes. Even Leonardo DiCaprio must have had moments when he wondered if his career plan was ever going to actually help him achieve his Oscar goal but he kept going, staying in control of his movie choices and continuing to develop as an actor.
Yes he didn’t get his Oscar at 20, but his journey to it now has been far more rewarding (both personally, artistically and financially) than it may otherwise have been, and the success that little bit sweeter. How will you feel when you achieve your career equivalent of an Oscar?