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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Over half of current employees would like to choose a different career. Sobering thought.

For those under the age of 30, that number is closer to 80 per cent. A recent study conducted by the University of Phoenix in Arizona confirms the story line that has been playing out for years. People leave school, start work however and wherever they can, quickly realize they are not on the right career path, and then have trouble making a change.

If only we knew that early career decisions, often made while workers are still getting their feet wet, end up playing out over the long term to devastating effect. If only we knew that young workers quickly find themselves feeling career trapped.

Oh wait, we do know that.

The career trap challenge is not that it simply occurs; the challenge is that it still occurs long after warning bells have been rung.

The hard truth is that early career decisions need to be made before people have any business making them. Even worse, those early career decisions are hard to reverse once they are set.

Finding the right career path is often an incredibly difficult and painful challenge. Exactly the reason why the majority of workers still feel trapped in their career.

These five steps, the principles of Career Design, will help you Houdini your way out of feeling stuck in your career.

1. Identify a point to aim for

Careers will follow the path of least resistance unless you target a different way forward.

What is the lifestyle you are seeing ahead? (Picket fence? Urbanite? Traveller? Worthy work?)

What environment are you willing to work in day in, day out? (Cubicles and suits? Overalls and open skies?)

These are two fundamental questions that must be answered to determine your unique career aiming point.

Keep in mind, lots of jobs have the potential to excite you, but not if they fail to answer these key questions. Identify your aiming point and keep the vision clear.

2. Solidify your bottom line

Now that you have your career aiming point, put it aside for the time being. The next step is to solidify your bottom line.

Every job has a bottom line purpose. Identify this purpose and become productive at it, regardless of how it may pain you.

Without getting productive at the essential skill sets for your job, taking the next steps become difficult.

Think of the bottom line of your job as the trunk of a tree; it's hard to go anywhere but down without a strong trunk.

3. Identify a career tangent

After getting good at what you have to do, identify the aspect of work that really excites you. (Facilitating meetings? Corporate social responsibility? Metrics and analytics?)

It may actually be a small part of what you are involved with, but it doesn't matter. This will become your career tangent, the way out of being career stuck.

This tangent should align with your aiming point. (If it doesn't, keep looking. Or, ask yourself those two questions again to see if the answers have changed.)

This is important because tangents become the place your aiming point and actual career path converge.

If we continue with the tree analogy, career tangents are the branches that split off the trunk. These branches are impossible to get to without a strong trunk, but they have the potential to drastically shift your trajectory.

4. Give your tangent a starting place

Career tangents need a push. Without initiative they are only a distant hope, and eventually a source of reflective disappointment.

The task is to craft a compelling story where career tangent activities can clearly be shown to improve the bottom line of your job and positively impact the organization. All three criteria must align: your interest, your job's bottom line, and your organization's aspirations.

This takes work, but remember, you have time on your hands. You will be doing whatever you do for fortyish hours a week, for fortyish years.

5. Compound your actions

Here is the fun part, where you fully emerge from the career trap.

The ultimate goal for growing a career is to create an interesting work history that has increasing value to you and others. The way to accomplish this is by doing a small act that tells a story. This story then allows you to do a bigger act, followed by an even bigger act. It's called compounding actions and you'll be surprised where it takes you.

Remember, the strategy is escape, not avoidance. Your life's work is ultimately at stake. Career fulfilment is steps away.

Tyler Waye (@TylerWaye) is a work force strategist, president of IN.FORM and author of the book, "I Went to School that Long for This?!"