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Resolve to Improve, One Step at a Time

By Mary Ellen Slayter Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, January 15, 2006; Page K01


Resolutions. They’re easy to make, even easier to break.

While some people fail to reach their goals because they were unrealistic to begin with, more often it seems those dreams just get pushed aside.

The trick to staying on track is to break those big ideas down into workable goals, things you can actually imagine yourself doing, said Leslie Groene, a business coach and author of “Picture Yourself & the Life You Want.”

  • Here are a few of the most common career-related resolutions with tips on how to make them more likely to happen in 2006.
  • Learn new skills. This was the No. 1 career-related resolution among workers surveyed by Accountemps, a staffing company. Brad Karsh, president and founder of JobBound, said that if this is one of your goals, it’s important to think broadly about where those lessons can come from. It won’t necessarily require a return trip to campus full time. “A lot of people don’t have the luxury of turning off the income spigot,” he said. If you’re one of them, “there’s a lot you can learn on the job,” he said, as well as through volunteering, from a mentor, or in nontraditional training programs. •Improve work-life balance. Karsh doesn’t see this as just about improving your personal life; it’s also the best thing you can do for your career. “Your next job is likely to come from someone you know,” he said. And it’s doubtful that someone is hiding in your cubicle. While it’s important to put in your dues when you’re young, make sure you’re really putting your effort into things that really matter to your boss, not just spending long hours at the office, said Karsh, who is the author of an upcoming book on job hunting, “Confessions of a Recruiting Director” (Prentice Hall Press, April 2006).
  • Increase your earnings. Be specific about just how much. Ten percent? $500 a month? Then create a strategy that will help you reach that goal, Groene said. If you’re a salesperson, you may need to pick up the phone more often to call potential clients. If you’re a truck driver, you may need to pick up another route If the relationship between your pay and your performance isn’t clear to you, ask your boss to help you come up with the criteria for what would merit the raise you’re seeking. “You have to contribute before you can say, ‘You owe me,’ ” Groene said.
  • Change careers. If it’s not just the job that’s got you down, but the profession as a whole, it’s time to switch careers. It’s a big step but one that you can make if you divide it into smaller steps. Again, can I remind you not to assume you have to go back to school? That’s one way to do it, but it’s not the only way. Oftentimes, many of the same skills you have been developing in your current career will transfer to a new one. This same advice also applies if you’re a recent college grad who wants to pursue work that does not directly apply to your major. Unless you want to work in a very specialized or technical field, employers don’t really care what you majored in. Plenty of corporate vice presidents have English degrees.
  • Start your own business. Again, baby steps are what it takes to make a big dream into reality. Just because you haven’t written up a business plan two weeks into the new year doesn’t mean you’re not going to make it happen in the long run. In fact, it may be a good thing that you don’t have a written plan yet. Victoria Colligan, founder of Ladies Who Launch, said writing a formal business plan too soon can be too constricting. She said not to get discouraged that your business doesn’t get rolling quickly. “It takes most businesses about three years to really get going,” she said. The important thing, she said, is to do something every day. And if you’re really feeling stuck? “Make the phone call you dread the most first.
  • “Most important, don’t give up. If you get sidetracked, that doesn’t mean you failed. “Walking in a marathon doesn’t mean you lost,” Groene said. “It means you need to get back running.”


Working in State Are you a young worker at a state or county government agency? Why did you choose to work there, rather than for the federal government, private sector or a nonprofit? What do you love or hate about it so far? E-mail me at if you’re willing to share your story for a column on the subject. Please include your full name and daytime phone number.

Join Mary Ellen Slayter for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues affecting young workers, at 2 p.m. Jan. 23 at