Ok, a couple of questions and a simple proposal.

First the questions:

  1. What do you want to do?
  2. What are you lacking?
  3. How can you bridge that gap?

Let’s break these down.

1. What do you want to do?

This deals primarily with the professional context, but it could apply to any area of your life. It isn’t a trick question though, what do you want? What is on your dream to-do list? Maybe it’s to write a book, speak at a specific conference, learn a new skill, get a new position, or be hired by a specific company.

We should be happy with the good things we have going for us in our lives, but we should never stay standing still. Push yourself to want something more. I’m not necessarily recommending you should quit your job (yet) and try to form a startup tomorrow, but if that’s what you want to ultimately do you should keep that goal in mind.

Write it down if it’ll help you think it through.

2. What are you lacking?

It’s not hard to think about this question. Often self doubt pushes our weakness to the forefront of our mind, so maybe work through this with a trusted friend.

Before talking with your friend, do some research. Look at your dream list and try to figure out what you need. If it’s a new job, look at the skills listed on job postings and add any skill you don’t have to your to-do list as sub items. If it’s a conference you want to speak at, look at the sort of thing existing speakers are doing; not necessarily to emulate or copy them, but to understand some of their traits you’d like to emulate.

Take this to-do list of skills and with that close friend, try to make an honest assessment of where you are before determining what you need to work on.

This question is not designed to depress you. If you stop here I’d be doing you a diservice, so stick with it to the end.

3. How can you bridge that gap?

Now that you have your dream board done, start figuring out what you need to do to get to where you are dreaming. For most situations you’ll need to work on a showcase project, both to learn a skill and also to demonstrate your prowess.

So pick a project. For most cases the project should be:

  • something you have control over to ensure it is demonstrating your skills in the right light.
  • public, or at least public enough you can easily share with the hiring manager, conference organizer, publisher, etc.
  • beyond your current portfolio projects; the whole point is to extend yourself.
  • collaborative. This is a bit of a bonus, but if possible you will grow fastest and in the right direction if you have a mentor helping to light the path ahead of you.
  • something you are passionate about.

The Simple Proposal

It shouldn’t be too surprising, but I would propose that you should consider an open source project, either an existing one or start a new project. If you can find a way to do some of these growing projects as part of your day job, more power to you, but it’s not common that your goals perfectly coincide with those of your employer.

If you are looking for a mentor, I volunteer. I’m not perfect, or the expert in all things, but I believe firmly in the role of mentorship in the process of progression, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Reach out to me on Twitter or leave a comment below.

You’re awesome, but you have potential for more.