The Trifecta to Shape your Dream Career in 2017

A few days ago, I received this question:

“I really like your blog/website, I came across it reading the CPA magazine.

I am a former IT contractor using SAP FICO skills, I was mostly based in Calgary…

… I ran month end for large oil/gas company for six plus years training six employees over that time to be my partner, doing the job nobody wanted until the oil gas economy crashed a year ago. I now work for the government in my local area with a short drive to work. 

I would still like to be a contractor but in the meantime…

…how do you recommend getting back in this business after oil gas collapse that has happened?…

Thanks, Randy”

(shared with Randy’s permission, of course.)




I love it when people reach out to me for questions like this. So many ideas come to mind. Here are my top few:


When your Horse Dies, Start Walking


I totally understand this perspective. Sometimes the environment doesn’t really go the way we expect. We adapt. But then we often find ourselves in a work situation that creates comfort but isn’t really what we originally set out to achieve. As the Cantonese (Chinese) say, “Mah sei, lock dei hahng,” which translates to “When your horse dies, start walking.”




Incidentally, every time I say this phrase, it reminds me of time I had once moved into a new corporate condo a few years ago. It was appointed just so. Everything was perfect. Everything, that is, except for the towels. There wasn’t a single towel in the condo. It was 10pm on a Sunday. What did I do? I headed to Safeway and bought a family pack of Bounty (paper towels). Hey.. when your horse dies, start walking.




Ok. back to it. Look, the first rule of business is to stay in business. The first rule of solvency is to stay solvent. Randy did what’s best for him. He took a job to stay solvent when the market went south. Live to fight another day. I also agree with his perspective, and that it’s ok as a temporary thing in the meantime. The longer term goal, hopefully, is to get back into contracting. It depends on how long you can go through a ‘dry spell,’ though. (Get your minds out of the gutter.)




Have a Financial Buffer

‘A dry spell’ is a period of time that you have in between contracts. In working with many IT recruiters throughout the ages, contractors are typically engaged for 10 out of 12 months in a year. Hence that bill rate needs to be bumped up a little higher to factor in the periods of downtime between contracts. That premium should be put away as a buffer so that you can live off it, until you bag that next contract. The larger the buffer, the longer you can safely go between contracts. This means that you don’t need to desperately take the first thing that comes your way. Especially as a contractor, you always want to be diligent about selecting engagements that you can add to your resume. You want to show off the seasoned expert that you are. A resume that is more homogenous to one field of expertise always trumps one with checkered experience.

Another reason why it’s crucial to have a financial buffer is to cover the lack of predictability we have, being the self-employed. As a contractor, you’ll run the risk of having the project getting canned, or put on the shelf at anytime. Your client suddenly might not need you.

Case in point: A few years ago, my friend Vlad was engaged on a contract that was due to start one July. Everything had been signed. The plan was to show up at the client site Monday morning and begin work. Well, he got a call from his recruiter the Friday before, saying that the client’s project was delayed for a few months, due to budgetary pressures. Come back in September. Good thing Vlad is seasoned in contracting. He knew to have ample reserves to handle crazy situations like this. What did he do? He scooted off to Panama and chilled until September.


Figure out What You Want

Randy is in a good spot to ‘germinate,’ if you will, even though being an employee seems like he strayed off his path. Doing something we don’t want to do is the best place to gain clarity on what it is that we do want to do. Doing something we hate is the best place to clearly discover what we truly want to do.




What is it that you want to do? In Randy’s case, he has a wide breadth of experience in SAP as a technology. And he’s mentored team(s) of people. He knows that he want to get back into contracting. That, to me, is the first thing anyone needs to clearly define in shaping that dream career. What does ‘getting back into contacting look like? Does it mean that he’s looking to consult in SAP? or does it mean that he wants to be engaged as an expert in training? Does he want to mentor brand new accounting teams?


What are you Good at?

I was listening to Hal Elrod’s podcast, as I was driving through rural Alberta on a pitch black winter evening. I went to pick up a bookshelf that I bought off Kijiji. (I probably should have just bought it new from Ikea, and saved myself from getting lost on deserted farm roads late at night. Not even the omnipresent Google maps can saved me. I digress. In this particular episode, Hal interviewed one Mike Merriam who wrote a book called Closer Than You Think, a book about achieving  goals and living life by design. He advocates five questions, the second of which is “What are you good at?”

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:


Ok. Take a moment for yourself to think about this one. What are you good at? When you think of the answer to this question, I encourage you to ask yourself what it is that you can contribute. What is it that you are the best at? What value do you bring to the marketplace? What is your x-factor? You’ll find that your x-factor isn’t necessarily limited to just one industry. In Randy’s case, his skill set is far beyond what he can contribute to the oil and gas industry.

This the first step, that I would recommend in order to get the ball rolling.



Whether or not you’re looking to get back into contracting like Randy, or looking to progress to that next step in your career, I invite you to carve out time in the next 3 days, and put some conscious thought into planning your next career goal.




Too many of us sail through our 40-year work life unconsciously. I’ve been guilty of this myself at times. We become complacent; we become lazy. Then we look at all those ‘high achievers’ and think how they must be more endowed. We think how it would be a pipe dream for that level, or any level of success to happen to us. As the wise Mary Williamson once said,

“Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?… Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do… It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”



Put Rubber to Road

In my post “How to Achieve the Crap out of your Goals,” I mentioned how the probability of achieving your goals essentially exponentiates as you write them down. This probability continues to drastically increase when you take the time to focus and visualize your goals on a consistent (daily) basis.

Every time you see your goals in your mind, you add in more and more detail. Finally, when you define, visualize and feel how it feels to have achieved your goal, they almost always come to fruition. Here’s the deal: If you want it bad enough, you’ll naturally do it. You be excited every single time you visit your goals in your mind.

On the flip side, if it’s not truly what your heart desires, you’ll find it more difficult to do so. You’ll almost think of it as a chore, that you need to get your visualizations done. I can safely promise you that none of your goals will come to fruition, if you’re treating them like a chore.




But Cat, it’s only December! Don’t you know that January is the prime time to set goals? Think of the New Year’s Resolutions! Here’s a secret that might may or may not surprise you. The most effective people in this world set goals before January begins. The highest caliber leaders on the face of this planet set their goals well in advance of January. They do this so that come January 1, they can start executing the actions that propel them toward their goals.


But this post isn’t about merely setting goals, even though now you know the cool kids start early. This post focuses on setting goals that shape your career. To close out our time together, I invite you to answer these 3 questions as you design the next step in your career:


  1. What is the ultimate vision of your career? What is that pinnacle highlight that you see yourself accomplishing at the end of your 40-year work life?
  2. What are you good at? No. More than that. What are you great at? What is your x-factor?
  3. What is it that you want to achieve by the end of  2017?


Do it. Now. Before the new year rolls around. Mark off a half-hour or more for 3 days to think about where you want to go, and what is your next step. Most people spend more time planning their vacation than their lives, let alone their careers.




PS. Since the magazine came out, a number of you have reached out to me for help entering the wonderful world of self-employed contracting. I’m going to start a private Facebook group soon. It’ll be a place where we can discuss this stuff. Enter your email below, or drop me a quick note at if you want in.

Also published on Medium.

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