You’re sitting in a meeting room with your coffee, waiting for your manager to show up for your one-on-one session. You can’t help feeling happy that someone is helping you with your career. After all those years, someone finally cares. She arrives. After a brief chat about career development, she asks you: “Where would you like your career to go?”.

No answers. Your desire for personal growth is undeniable. You love learning and aspire to have a career. But when specifically asked about details, you realize it’s difficult to choose a specific career path. There are just too many things you like in design, and your passion blocks you. The situation happens again. It becomes frustrating. Over time you might start thinking about a career change, hoping that the next manager will have the answer.

If it sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I’ve been there. One of the main reasons why designers leave companies is a lack of growth.

In previous jobs, I loved my company, but my career path was vague. It seemed like I couldn’t do anything to progress. Everything changed when I started to explore activities over job titles. Let’s consider how this concept can help navigate those troubled waters.

Activities over job titles

Managers tend to ask which job we would like to do so they can map it out against the company’s job architecture, or share this information with human resources. While it makes sense from an organizational perspective, it’s a question that I find hard to answer.

Job titles mean different things at different companies. Some organizations split individual contributors from people manager roles. Leading a few people in a small company surely differs from a manager role when there are thousands of people around.

When the head of design in one of my last companies asked me about the job I’d love, it was tough for me to say I wanted the same position as him. The imposter syndrome kicked in — doubting accomplishments and fear of being a fraud — and I couldn’t help feeling arrogant. Almost like I would try to steal their job without feeling good enough for it.

Focusing on what you’re doing daily instead of titles helps to frame the conversation. If you have a clear picture of all the things you’d like to do, it’s easier to attach a position’s name to that.

Three lenses to focus on a skill

When I coach designers on this problem, I ask them the following questions:

  • What activities do you love doing as a designer?
  • What activities would you love to do in your dream job?
  • What craft or soft skills does your team/company need?

Best case scenario you’ll find a skill present in each section, which will help you decide where to focus.

If that’s not the case, deprioritize the company’s needs. When it comes to growth, it’s essential to focus on what you enjoy doing. It could help you in the future create a new opportunity within your company, or find a better job elsewhere if needs be.

You won’t be able to do all the activities listed in your dream job. But if you can incorporate one in your day to day life, it’ll get you closer to your goal.

While it might be tempting to focus on multiple strengths or growth areas simultaneously, I’d advise concentrating on one at a time. It’ll be easier to track your progress and learn more about the subject of your choosing.

A few years ago, I decided to work on my leadership skills, but there were no opportunities to help me do that within my company. I started reading books and articles, going to conferences, and also had the chance to go through different training.

Today, leadership is part of my daily job. Focusing on the skill I wanted to grow instead of aiming for a job title helped me transition to a new position.

Own your path

Ultimately, it’s your job to manage your career actively and not your manager’s. Her job is to support you, not make choices for you.

The next time you’re in a one-on-one conversation, share your goals and ask her to hold you accountable. Don’t spend time wondering what to answer when she asks about your growth ambitions, but spend time talking about how she could support you to make it happen.

It will transform your relationship for the best, and hopefully, your career too.