Due to an unfortunate coffee mishap, I spent the holidays setting up a new computer and frantically trying to extract documents from my old, caffeine-soaked laptop. While in the middle of my rescue mission, I stumbled upon a career map that I’d created four years ago.

Making a career map wasn’t my brilliant idea, but it helped me get out of a serious job slump. At that time, I was working as an account executive at an ad agency and hated it. I’d only taken the job for two reasons: I was turning 26 and couldn’t stay on my dad’s health insurance; and I wanted to be a copywriter, so being in close proximity to some would magically transform me into one — right?

Not so much.

My brother recommended working in the industry I wanted first and worry about getting a writer position once I had more experience — hence, the advertising job.

But things were moving a little too slowly for my liking. I’d been at the agency for nine months and wasn’t any closer to becoming a writer. Deflated, I shared my woes with a coworker. She suggested making a career map, an outline of steps to take me to the next level.

She explained further: You write down where you want to be in your career three to six months from now, one year from now and five or more years from now. Then, for each timeframe, you identify the steps to achieving the next milestone. So, for example, If your career goal is to take the Iron Throne and rule the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, you might write “Acquire fleet of ships” as an action step. Here’s what mine looked like:

3 to 6 Months

1. Ask HR to consider me for a copywriting position.

Action Steps:
i. Create portfolio of three to five pieces
ii. Schedule meeting with HR

2. Network/research.

Action Steps:
i. Talk to at least three professional writers to get insight into the profession

  • Name 1
  • Name 2
  • Name 3

ii. List of questions to ask:

  • How did they get their start?
  • How would they recommend getting started today?
  • Are they happy with their career, compensation, work/life balance?
  • What’s a reasonable starting salary to ask for?
  • Do they know any other writers who would be willing to connect?

1 Year

3. Take at least one course in copywriting/writing/building a portfolio.

  • Research what class to take, estimated tuition
  • Start setting money aside for tuition

4. Get copywriting job at another agency or company if I don’t get offered a position at current company.

3 to 5 Years

5. Work at a major agency or company in New York City

6. Gain freelance experience

Writing all this down provided me with much-needed clarity and actionable steps to follow. Best of all, it worked! When I stumbled across my old career map, I realized that I had accomplished every goal, even those as far out as five years.

So I set out to write one for the next five years — and this time around, my goals don’t feel as daunting.

If you want to create your own career map, here are a few things I learned along the way that could help make the process easier.

Get as granular as you want. Back when I was complaining to my coworker, her first piece of advice to me was: Ask for the job you want. Groundbreaking, I know. But it had never occurred to me to simply ask HR to consider me for a different role. That became my first milestone.

Prioritize what’s important to you. For example, I value a good work/life balance, so I included that on my career map as something to inquire about while doing research. I love writing, but I love a lot of other stuff, too. What gets you excited about a job can differ from person to person, so tailor your map to fit what matters most.

Don’t let fear of rejection stop you. I got turned down for the account executive role the first time I interviewed. I was devastated — I really wanted to get my foot in the door. So I emailed my contact at the agency to ask why I didn’t get the job, and for advice on how to kill it in future interviews. Turns out, the main reason they didn’t offer me the position was because they thought I wasn’t interested! But my contact was impressed that I asked for feedback — he called me back in, and I was hired shortly afterward.

That story just serves as a reminder not to assume that what you want is too lofty. Sure, you may need to account for a detour or two on your map, and you often learn more from the things you did wrong than right. But your dreams are your own to pursue — you just need to break down the steps it’ll take to achieve them.