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Life's Roadmap: Career Advice To Get You Where You Want To Be

11/07/2013 10:12 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Whether you are just out of college or in the middle of your career, you probably have a vision about what your ideal career looks like. I know that for myself, I was a young, bright business major, who had it all planned out when I graduated. But, as we all have learned, even the best-laid plans can't prevent life's unexpected twists and turns. You can idolize that prime position, only to realize you are miserable in it. Or, you can settle down where you're happy, and not make enough to support yourself or your family. Career ups and downs are inevitable, but as long as you stay focused, you will keep moving in the right direction. Set professional immediate and long-term goals so that even when life throws you the inevitable curve ball, you can refocus on them and you'll get right back on track.

Looking back on the past few years, I cannot believe that I was able to get where I am now: with three wonderful children and my own HR consulting firm. However, it was not easy and I wish there was a way to give myself advice when I first launched my career, to better navigate everything that was thrown at me. I have outlined four key goals that I focused on, and stuck to, and they have helped me achieve my dreams:

Get Clear on Success
Define what success means to you. In a recent survey by management consulting firm Accenture, more than two-thirds of women -- and the same number of men -- surveyed felt they could "have it all." More than half turned down a job due to concerns about its impact on work-life balance. Both genders ranked the qualities of career success as work-life balance first, followed by money, recognition and autonomy. Investing the time and effort to define success in your own terms is one of the most helpful exercises you can undertake to navigate your unique career aspirations.

Create a Career Roadmap
Once you are clear on what success means to you, create a career roadmap to achieve it. Although it's not possible to predict every step along the way -- nor is it advisable to have too rigid of a plan that does not allow for unexpected opportunities or curves in the road -- having a plan and setting goals dramatically increases the likelihood of succeeding.

Set Ambitious Compensation Goals
Research shows that women have systematically lower compensation expectations than men and expect to wait longer for promotions. Sara Laschever, co-author of the book Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and Gender Divide says that "Women report salary expectations between 3% and 32% lower than those of men for the same jobs." She goes on to say, "Men expect to earn 13% more than women during their first year of full-time work and 32% more at career peak." This difference is important because negotiators with high outcome goals are generally more persistent and successful than negotiators with low outcome goals.

Know When to Move On
One of the most common ways to increase one's compensation is to change jobs. Do not stick with a company that lacks the career opportunities or culture to support your career progress. Sometimes, you can fast-track your career by walking out the door for a position that offers increased compensation as well as long-term career advancement. While it can be difficult to find that perfect position, make sure not to lose hope and sell yourself short -- you are your greatest motivator.