How To Create A Career Bucket List

If you’re always working for the weekend, you’re not alone. Just one-third of employees are actively engaged at work, leaving the majority of us unhappy on the job, according to the most recent State of the American Workplace Gallup poll. Instead of keeping an eye on the clock and the calendar, take the reins by creating a career that you love, experts suggest.

“People often find themselves on a lifelong career journey without a destination in mind, only to look back at some point and realize they are not where they expected or wanted to be professionally,” says Tom Kemp, MBA executive-in-residence at the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business. “Often this reflection happens when they either find themselves confronted with a job loss or they simply become so disenfranchised that they quit with little idea or thought about what they want to do next.”

Creating a career bucket list can help motivate and excite you as you navigate your life professionally, says Sarah Bartz, associate director of career development at Lebanon Valley College.

“Discussing a career path can be overwhelming, but it’s important to map out your plan,” she says. “I usually ask students what they would be doing if nothing was holding them back. Using that as a starting point, start brainstorming.”


Consistent with life bucket lists, a career bucket list should be highly aspirational, says David Nour, CEO of the strategy consulting firm The Nour Group and author of Co-Create: How Your Business Will Profit from Innovative and Strategic Collaboration. “If you think about how many of us define success—whether it be getting a degree, managing a team, leading a larger group, getting an overseas/expat assignment—most can be bucketed into personal and professional growth,” he says. “Fast forward to your retirement party or when your grandchildren invite you to their school to talk about what you did for work and work your way backwards. What professional aspirations do you have? How will you learn and grow in the years or decades ahead? What unique assignments do you want to experience?”

Instead of relying solely on your imagination, expand your possibilities by asking others how they learn and grow, and what world-class events they’ve attended, suggests Nour. “Develop an insatiable appetite for learning, uncovering new experiences, and meeting new and interesting people,” he says. “Read more than just your industry trade publication, and start doing more than just reading passively. Put yourself in places, events, and experiences to meet equally talented people, within and external to your organization, industry, and geography.”


Once you’ve created your list, use it as a means of adding structure to your career path, says Bartz. “In the day-to-day management of a career and our personal lives, it can be so easy to lose sight of your goals,” she says. “Whether you keep your list in your desk, in your wallet, or saved on your phone or computer, pull it out from time to time. Reviewing it every six months may help you to achieve things you never would have imagined to be possible, and direct your professional life.”

Be proactive in checking off at least one item a year. “When it comes to career bucket lists, the action is the critical part, says Nour. “Even if you don’t know how, make it a priority to get there.”

Share your list with everyone you like, respect, and trust, says Nour. “You never know what relationships or insights they can share to accelerate your ability to get there,” he says.

Make those bucket list items a priority by using “time crafting,” or crafting your time in a way to reach goals, suggests Mike Vardy, author of The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want. Choose a theme for each month, making measurable progress toward your goal. “For December, for example, you could go do research on LinkedIn to find different employers and prospects for your chosen career,” he says. “Then in January, do a month of self development, learning skills that help you move forward. Doing this gives you a trajectory and focus to spend your time consistently, and choosing a theme every month will make you more likely to reach larger goals.”

Working toward a big goal is going to take time, says Vardy. “Time moves faster than we anticipate, and if you don’t have a measurable plan in place or a way to more simply achieve smaller goals, you set yourself up for failure or disappointment,” he says. “The key is consistency. Show up. Be consistent. Have the will to do it. Determination and putting framework in place allows you to make progress toward the intentions you set up for yourself.”

Managing your career journey is more than a onetime event, says Kemp. “It is an ongoing, proactive effort that opens doors to multiple opportunities inside and outside of your current organization,” he says. “In the end, those who are able to define their skills, interests, and values, have a broad and reliable network, and can clearly communicate their aspirations find themselves with many career options.”


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