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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

We all know how important it is to navigate and manage our own careers. However, it's not always easy to know what to do or when to do it.

Personal circumstances, bosses' opinions, and corporate restructuring all play a pivotal part in affecting the success of our leadership and career trajectory. Our tolerance for these external factors and how they affect our lives varies, but ultimately we are the ones who know what's best, even if we have moments of being unsure of our next move.

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Years ago when I was a corporate employee and ready to return to work after maternity leave, I decided coming back part-time might be a good option to help me transition after having a baby. My boss saw my return to the work force differently than I did. She told me that she did not think it was possible to be both a serious career woman and be a mother and suggested that I think about choosing which one was more important to me.

After getting over the shock (and the potential unlawfulness of her comment), my tolerance for her navigating my career in this way was, as you might imagine, zero.

So, I quit. I had no job, a three-month old, an 18-month old, and was determined my career would resemble something I wanted and not something someone else wanted for me.

After managing this unfortunate set of circumstances myself, I learned a number of lessons. Here are three that helped me, and might help you, as you think about how to navigate your desires and your circumstances most effectively.

Pay attention

Even though we believe our careers are ours to manage, if we work for someone else, we often find ourselves limited to our boss's ideas about what career moves are available to us or not.

Pay attention to the feedback you receive from your boss and your boss's boss. You need to read between the lines, even if you don't like what you see. I can't tell you how many times I've heard an executive tell me they gave one of their employees some pretty tough feedback, but when I checked in with the employee, they said that nothing unusual or critical in nature was discussed.

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My conclusion is that most of us really do believe we have spoken straight and clear when giving feedback, but in reality what was said isn't necessarily heard as we intended. As a result, we have to get better at reading between the lines and asking lots of questions to get the needed clarity to plot a course for our next move.

Navigate

Map out the path to the promotion, job, or title you desire and feel you deserve. No one wants what you want more than you do and no one will take the wheel for you. You are in the driver's seat, but beware – this journey is not for the faint-hearted. You will need to stay alert, read the signs, and stay focused on your destination. It's okay to take a detour or two as no career progression is travelled in a straight line. Keep your eyes on your destination, otherwise it becomes easy to detour down too many side streets just waiting for "them" to change their minds and see just how talented you really are.

Recalculate

To be fully satisfied in your work, you first have to decide what it is that you want, and then commit to aiming for it in a singularly focused kind of way. It does happen, although rarely, that the universe just guides us along without effort toward our dreams and goals. Most of the time however, we actually have to do stuff to make what we want become a reality.

It takes persistence, commitment and acting outside your comfort zone to obtain the brass ring you have your sights on. Have conversations with key stakeholders (bosses, mentors and a coach) as to what's required to adjust your actions, recalculate your path, and understand clearly the gap between where you are and where you want to ultimately be.

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As you navigate your career, no matter how old or young you are, you will either head toward something you want or escape from something that's not working for you, like in my case with my boss. Giving yourself time to think about your career progression actually allows you to work on your career and not just be in it. It is a smart thing to do and will pay off by putting you in the driver's seat over and over again.

Wendy Capland (@WendyCapland) is CEO of Vision Quest Consulting, and has 25 years of experience working with hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals. She is the author of Your Next Bold Move for Women: 9 Proven Steps to Everything You Ever Wanted.

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