Career Lens: A Career Development Framework — Part 1 : Self Awareness

Swathi Sundar
7 min readJun 5, 2021


A non-prescriptive way to think about your career

Career Lens : A non prescriptive way to think about your career
Courtesy: SlidesCarnival

Many times over the past decade I have struggled without knowing what strategy I needed to deploy in my career. To be honest, sometimes I had spent more time researching how to advance in my career than the actual time spent on actioning upon what I had learnt. I realized the only way I could be disciplined about it is to come up with a framework that I could use as a reference every time I was feeling stuck or clueless about what to do next.

Career Lens framework is a curation of different thoughts and perspective from experiences that my peers, mentors and managers have been gracious enough to share, reflections from the books I have read, lessons from courses and trainings that I have attended and finally, my personal observations of people and technical leaders in the companies I have worked in the past. The Career Lens framework has 3 phases:

  • Self-Awareness : Knowing how you react to stress in your day-to-day situations, what you are motivated by personally, and which stage of the career you are in helps you internalize how your personal life influences your professional growth.
  • Market Realities: Understanding the market realities helps know your playing field better and enables you to curate your career in the conscious path you want
  • Career Roadmap: Do you know what you should do next to optimise for what you want in your career? Having a career roadmap for yourself sets you up for success.

The next few sections will provide you different perspectives to consider when you are thinking about progress and growth at work. Please note that none of these are prescribed suggestions. They are just different lenses in which you can look into your career and personalize what works for you and what doesn’t.

Self-Awareness (Personal)

Self-Awareness means “conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings”. Since life is a myriad of ups and downs, it is crucial to understand how we react to it.

Life Events

Everything from finding a partner, getting married, buying a car/home, having a child to broken relationships, debt, death/sickness of loved ones, injury/illness, changes you. Those changes might directly affect your focus in your career.
Courtesy: SlidesCarnival

Life goes on. Getting a new job might have been the greatest milestone after graduation. However, adulting only starts right after that. There are events that follow — some within our control, some outside of our control — that affect how we think and behave. Everything from finding a partner, getting married, buying a car/home, having a child to broken relationships, debt, death/sickness of loved ones, injury/illness, changes you. Those changes might directly affect your focus in your career. Hence, understanding how you react and respond to stress from an emotional, psychological and behavioral way helps you to channelize your energy in the way that is right for you. When these events happen, ask yourself the following

  • Can you channel your energy into work?
  • Is work a distraction?
  • Can you be social and interact with others in the office?
  • Do you need your personal space and time off?

I’ve seen some of my coworkers come to work the next day after their ACL surgeries, or burying their dad, or even after an abortion. For them, work was passion. It gave them a great source of distraction, but also a tremendous sense of purpose, meaning and satisfaction. They were able to channel their personal woes into work and deliver great results. On the other hand, I have seen people take time off and sabbaticals to get a break from work, travel the world and heal from their pain. Being aware of what works for you will help you manage your time, focus and energy better.

You can also proactively plan your career according to how events in your life unfolds. For example:

  • Do you have other commitments in life or can you join an early stage start-up where the demands on your work and time is considerably more?
  • Are you planning for a kid? Which means, do you need to consider companies that have great benefits for parents and one that has a generous parental leave?
  • Are you looking to move into a different role? Does your company provide you access to trainings/courses or astipend for pursuing an advanced degree?
  • Are you fighting through an illness or taking care of someone who is? Does that require flexibility in your work schedule?

Consciously planning in advance will help prepare you and set the right expectations on yourself and your performance at work.


What energizes you when you think about work? For most of us, a 3–5 combination of factors influences our motivation to work. There could be many factors:

  • Recognition — Receiving recognition and praise for the work you do
  • Status — Receiving a position such as a title or a role
  • Responsibility — Being entrusted with important and impactful work
  • Creativity — Having the space to explore different ideas
  • Access — Being included in exclusive circles
  • Inclusion — Having your say being considered for areas outside of your core responsibilities
  • Impact — Value delivered to the business
  • Growth — Personal improvements and seeing yourself get better in your own eyes
  • Compensation — Monetary rewards
  • Challenge — Working on things that are unknown, hard, something you’ve not done before
  • Curiosity — Learning new things, perspectives
  • Mastery — Developing expertise on an area
  • Collaboration — Working closely with others
  • Pace — Moving fast
  • Winning — Working in an environment where the team/company keeps winning
  • Mission — Mission of the team/company
  • Autonomy — Discovering your own path as opposed to being told what to do
  • High Pressure — Working on things where the stakes are high
  • Acceptance — Gaining the respect and trust of your peers
  • Influence — Being able to convince and influence others

Knowing what motivates you — to push through those pesky bugs, or debugging through the race condition, coming up with a scalable tech plan for your project in the middle of the night, or fighting fraudsters over the New Year’s Eve— can help you refocus and get the sense of achievement and satisfaction and get you through your dull gray days.

As we keep growing and evolving through time, our motivators can also change as the environments and the situation around us changes.

For me, one of the greatest motivations is fear — fear of becoming irrelevant in the future. It’s the fear that keeps pushing me out of my comfort zone, that forces me to take on new challenges and new roles at work every few years. It helps me to learn and be curious and motivates me to pick up newer skill sets.

I’ve known people who stay in their current jobs way longer than they should. Keep tabs on how motivated you are at work. Is the environment supportive of your goals and is it fueling the right motivation for you to grow in your career. If not, it might be a good time to consider shifting to a new team, moving to a new company, changing job roles or finding a new interesting domain.

Passion or Work

Which category do you belong to?

  • Work is my passion.
  • I have a passion outside of work.
  • I don’t know! I’m still figuring it out..
  • Wait.. why not, both?

A new manager who had recently joined Uber then asked me this in my very first 1–1. I did not answer immediately, but it triggered me to think for multiple days over which category I was in. It also helped provide clarity on where to focus my thoughts and energy. Am I thinking about a hard problem in the shower or daydreaming about my next travel destination?

In my early days at Microsoft, I used to judge some of my coworkers who would come in around 8.30am and leave around 4.30pm and work only on the tasks and projects assigned to them. Whereas, I was slogging myself from 6.30am to 9.30pm during weekdays and working during weekends too!

Retrospectively, I realized, it’s just a different approach to work. All of them who left early, had either a family to care for or were passionate about woodworking, home renovation, playing board games or writing Young Adult novels! Some of them were also moonlighting as professional photographers or musicians and some even competed in international gaming events! Hence, for them, work was just that, work.

So… you do YOU! There’s no right or wrong answer to this. It simply highlights what your modus operandi is. Understanding how you perceive work can help you figure out the right balance to either push through or disconnect from frustrating days at work.

Self-Awareness (Professional)

Stages of Career

Have you heard of the “Conscious Competence Learning Model”? It explains the process and stages of learning a new skill. This can also be widely used to understand where you are in your current role.

Courtesy: Stages of Competence

Another angle to think about this is, which stage are you currently in?

  • newbie, learning and exploring
  • fitting in and making progress
  • built expertise — satisfaction and belonging
  • veteran

This could correlate to your level in the company — entry level, junior, senior or it could relate to your time in a new job function, like transitioning from an engineer to a manager, or the phases you go through once you get promoted to the next level etc. This is because, in each of those transitions, you are now working towards a new set of expectations. Simply doing what you were doing before wouldn’t cut it.

While you reach conscious competence and enjoying your proficiency, watch out for complacency. In other words, are you “coasting” or “resting and vesting”? If you are conscious you are doing that and have a reason for doing so that makes sense to you (eg: waiting for promotion, focussing your time at home due to major life events, or simply taking time off to reflect, etc), then that’s alright. However, if you are not pushing yourself out of your comfort zone for an indefinitely long period of time, then you might become stagnant in your career. At that time, find the next skillsets, domain or role that you want to venture into!

In the next set of posts, I will cover Market Realities and Career Roadmap.