Career-related resolutions are among the most popular—this is the year you’ll find a new job, get a raise, or discover your passion! But as the year marches onward, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these big goals and to let them fall by the wayside.

The good news? Achieving those big, sweeping goals is really all about taking small, manageable steps forward. In that spirit, here are seven actionable things you can do—starting today—to point yourself in the directions of your dreams no matter what (or how big) they are.

1. Ask Yourself One Tough Question

Sometimes the questions you most need the answer to are the ones you’re putting off exploring. For example: “Why do I want to change my job?”; “What are the three words my manager would use to describe my work ethic?”; or “What’s my colleague in the position that I seek to get promoted to doing differently or better than me?”

Even if the answer isn’t what you’d hoped for, this is an important starting point as you plot out your next steps—and a necessary one.

2. Look for a Career Role Model

Here’s some good news: No matter what you want to accomplish—switching fields, innovating, landing a promotion—it has been accomplished before, and likely by someone who was much less creative than you. So, think about the tried-and-true method, and start there.

Some great places to explore how people have gotten from point A to point B? Browse profiles on The Muse or Career Contessa or stalk LinkedIn for people who have job titles you think look interesting and see how they got where they are today. Their paths can give you an idea of where to go next.

3. Find a Career Sponsor

No matter where you want to go, look for people who will support your journey. I tell people all the time: Career sponsors are more important than career mentors.

So, what’s the difference? Mentors can be instrumental in teaching you new skills. But career sponsors look out for your best interests and can help you fast-track your career. When they work at your company, career sponsors may help you navigate office politics or advocate for you to receive a promotion or raise. An external career sponsor is someone who shares opportunities to advance your career or advises you on becoming a rising star in your industry. Here are a few ways to start getting on a sponsor’s radar, today.

4. Strive for Excellence

When you’re unhappy in your job or thinking about jumping ship to work for a new company, it’s not uncommon for performance to decline. But doing so-so work isn’t good for you, your boss, or your prospects for your next job. Mediocre work contributes to negative feelings, a lackluster resume, and an all around “blah” attitude about your career. Alternatively, going above and beyond to put forth exceptional work will yield excellence in every aspect of your career and life—yes, even your job search. (Just think about all those bullet points you’ll be able to add to your resume!)

5. Become an Expert

It’s OK to be selective about which tasks you want to engage with more intensely. It’s becoming easier and easier to create a personal brand via social media, and expertise is more visible than ever. People turn to experts when there are problems to solve, so if you set yourself up as authority, opportunities will start seeking you out.

Looking for an easy way to start building your reputation as an expert at work? Look for areas where you can put your unique skills to use. Then, volunteer for projects that will allow you to use these skills and show them off. For example, if you’re looking to become an expert on branding, consider showing your manager your personal website. Then, ask if there are any opportunities for you to apply your skills. Once you’ve successfully contributed to a few tasks, you’ll be top of mind when similar projects are discussed.

6. Dress for the Job You Want

As you’re beefing up your resume, consider stepping up your outfits. You’ve heard this advice before, but if you haven’t taken it to heart, it’s time to accept that people do judge books by their covers. It takes only three to five seconds for someone to form a first impression. And while you might wish that opinions were based on your intelligence or experience, most studies show that first impressions are shaped by what can be seen or heard in those initial few seconds.

So, if you haven’t yet, start building a polished, professional wardrobe that colleagues, clients, and customers will respect. It will send a message to your boss (and contacts you’re meeting outside of work) that you should be taken seriously for new opportunities.

7. Be Realistic

Many people assume that, once they find the right job, they’re going to love every aspect of it. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen. Even if you’ve found your dream job, it’s called work, and you’re paid to do it for a reason! The trick is to figure out the parts you love—as well as the parts you don’t like that much—and then come up with ways to make the icky parts more fun.

Don’t let fear of embarking on a big, scary goal hold you back. If you feel like you’re too busy, I’m going to challenge you to take 30 minutes out of your day to take one small step. It may seem like a small, negligible amount of time, but that daily 30 minutes will add up to a huge difference over the course of a year!

Photo of woman climbing staircase courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020