When we’re kids, we’re often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But now that you’re all grown, when’s the last time you asked yourself that question? And now’s the time when the answer is more important than ever—and that answer is your “career manifesto.”

Taking the time to write a career manifesto can be an invaluable tool in guiding you toward the career you always imagined for yourself. And research has shown that the mere act of writing down your goals can help you achieve them.

So, where should you start? Right here:

1. Take it Personally

Really, a career manifesto is more like a life manifesto. It’s important to think about what you want your life to look like before you can think about what your career will look like.

Consider questions like: Where do I want to live? What are my income requirements? Am I okay with working long hours? If having time for yourself and your interests outside of work is important, a plan to be a CEO or starting your own business might interfere with that.

Think realistically about the work-life balance you know will make you happiest. It’s a personal question and there’s no right or wrong answer, so be honest.

2. Go on a Mission

Your manifesto should start with a personal mission statement, or a central thesis for you and your career. Take some time to brainstorm your values and skills, and recall some times when you’ve been happiest or proudest of your work.

Remember to think broadly and abstractly as you do this. Your career manifesto doesn’t have to be as specific as wanting to be the VP of Marketing for [insert company here]. More likely, it will be a general description of what you want to accomplish in your career.

For example, Amanda Steinberg, founder of DailyWorth.com, follows this mission statement: “To use my gifts of intelligence, charisma, and serial optimism to cultivate the self-worth and net worth of women around the world.”

Do you want to educate others or be a mentor? Design, create, and build things? Maybe you’d like to be an innovator or a trailblazer. Having a broader, guiding idea will help provide inspiration, rather than produce frustration when a very specific goal seems out of reach.

3. Ask Your Friends

When you’re in the process of putting your mission and manifesto together, meet for coffee with a friend or colleague who knows you well. Take them through your ideas. You’ll be surprised at what they can share from an outside perspective.

Maybe their thoughts will reaffirm what you’d been thinking all along, or they’ll point out something you’ve never considered. My husband served this purpose for me and had some insightful observations on how I approach my work (even if I didn’t always want to hear them).

4. Write it Down

Once you’ve created a solid mission statement, brainstorm some goals that can lead you down the path it outlines. Put some pen to paper (or keyboard to Word doc) and write these goals down.

Start by dreaming big and imagining the career you want, including what your typical day would look like. Then come back to the present and start with some small, achievable goals for the short-term. What’s going to get you to that place? Think about what you’d like to accomplish in one, five, 10, or even 20 years from now.

5. Begin Anywhere

You’ve recorded your manifesto and goals. Now, evaluate them with regard to your current situation. Are you moving in the right direction? What skills do you need to be successful in your ideal job? What are you doing to acquire them?

If life in creative pursuit is a long-term goal, and you’re not finding that outlet through your day job, start carving out time away from work to create. Look into classes or certification programs to learn that skill you need to stand out at work. Develop a mentor or mentee relationship with someone whose career path you admire.

Start moving in the direction of your manifesto—even if your steps are small.

6. Allow Your Ideas to Change

If you look at your manifesto in the future and find your goals have shifted, revise it! You’re allowed to change your mind or have some tweaks along the way. But ideally, your manifesto has been written so broadly that it can apply to different jobs and career paths, because it has captured the essence of what will truly drive you, no matter the profession.

Now set your career manifesto aside, but keep it in a safe place. It’s the foundation that you’ll build your career on from this point forward. This isn’t going to dictate every second of every day, but it should serve as a guide when you need it.

If your job is starting to feel uninspiring or rote, pull that manifesto back out to remind you of where you’re heading. Use it to evaluate new opportunities, gain perspective, and inform your decisions.

You can begin right away, with the smallest of steps, to head down the path to your dream job. All you need is a good manifesto to guide you.

Photo of sun hands courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020