From personal experience and speaking with MSLs from different backgrounds and tenure, I’ve learned that:
Your career plan must be inwardly driven.
You know what you are happiest doing – let’s say – fulfilling your MSL duties. But you see your peers going after that MSL manager promotion or leaving to other companies with management opportunities. After a while you start to wonder why you aren’t developing that urge to move “forward and upward.” Next thing you know, you’re signing off expense reports and hating every minute of it.
This is where a trusted advisor or mentor can help you stay focused on your own internal values and motivators. Given how MSLs are naturally an overachieving group, you can’t take for granted that you will automatically “stay true” to your internal motivators.
Your career plan must be immune to external changes.
Most of the time MSLs’ “career” plan is really a list of job titles they want to attain, which makes it a “job” plan, not a “career” plan. When something happens to the department or to the company or to the industry, that plan becomes obsolete. To immunize your career plan against external changes, shift your focus on what you enjoy doing as part of a career, instead of only paying attention to the next job title you desire.
In touchy-feely speak, I’m talking about your passion. If you look at true geniuses at work, you won’t hear them profess to manifest their “genius” because they had a list of job titles they want to achieve. Geniuses work and live from passion, which shows up as creativity and innovative thinking. 95% of my “career” plan didn’t work out as I had planned (because it was really a list of job titles, not a true career plan).
You must be accountable for the quality of your own career development.
Note that I said “quality” instead of “outcome”. If you want to explore where your unique MSL career profile can take you in the future, you are accountable for seeking out people and resources that give you the information you need to make the best decision for yourself. Quality that comes from your own thoughts and actions is really the only thing you can control. Whether your manager turns out to be completely laissez-faire to your career interests or pushes you too hard in a different direction is beyond your control.
Once you recognize your locus of control, cut yourself some slack if your career isn’t moving as you’d like it, and you know you’ve put forth your best quality effort. Sometimes where you ultimately end up can be more fulfilling than where you originally “planned.” If my original career plan had worked out, I’d be living on the East coast shoveling snow so I could find my car, get to lab, and finish writing my eleventh grant application. I probably would not be enjoying my career as much as I am today.
Wishing you success in your MSL career path.