Shortly after I joined the Robert H. Smith School of Business, I was asked to speak at several University of Maryland sororities and fraternities on the ways in which students can maximize their potential.

I developed a talk based on my experiences as a former executive, a clinical professor, and an executive and career coach. The talk is about taking complete control of your life, simply by behaving like a C-suite executive. I called the talk, “You’re the CEO of Your Life.” It was so warmly received that I still receive emails today from students who heard this talk years ago. Last year I was asked to deliver a TEDx talk on this topic, and I learned it was also very well received by people who are midway through their careers.

Yes, you are in fact the CEO of your life. A chief executive sets the strategy and vision for a corporation and it is up to each of us to set the strategy and vision for our lives. It is difficult for a corporation to experience resounding success without a sound strategy or vision, so it will also be difficult for each of us to reach our full potential without a well thought-out strategy and vision for our future. I find it interesting that so many people spend more time thinking about and planning their wedding or even their summer vacation than they do creating the strategy and vision for their lives.

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Life is dynamic so our long-term plan does require adjustments and course corrections along the way; however we should always have a plan and strategy for achieving our personal and career goals. These goals should force us to stretch outside of our comfort zone, enabling us to expand this safe area where most people prefer to reside. The more we stretch ourselves and become uncomfortable, the larger our comfort zone becomes. This process should never stop. So take the time think about what you want to accomplish in your life — professionally and personally — then put together your long-term plan supported by long-term goals and milestones (short-term goals) along the way to ensure you are on track. Course corrections can be made when you reach each of these milestone dates.

You are also the COO, or chief operating officer, of your life. You are fully responsible for the daily operations of your life. You must manage your time effectively and efficiently, ensuring that your daily activities are supporting the strategy and vision you set while wearing your CEO cap. Your daily operations will allow you to achieve your milestones and long-term goals. Your daily decisions will have a material impact on your progress and if you fail to make wise decisions, this can result in a setback to your plan. Life does require tough decisions and you must be strong enough to overcome the lure of decisions that will not serve your strategy well.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that you are also the chief marketing officer – CMO — of your life, solely responsible for building your own personal brand. It is up to you to build your brand awareness and your brand equity. Once again, your daily actions and decisions impact your personal brand. The stronger your personal brand, the more opportunities will come your way. For example, if your personal brand is built on the pillars of integrity, honesty, empathy, and work ethic, you are certainly contributing to the success of your personal brand. Remember that when employers or potential clients are evaluating you, they are evaluating your personal brand. Self-awareness is the key: think about your daily actions and decisions and how they will impact your reputation.

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It’s also worth mentioning that you are also your own chief financial officer. All corporations must best decide how to manage their limited financial resources to maximize their business results. It is the same for you. We all have varying financial resources and each of us must do our best to manage these resources to help us achieve our overall goals. It is important to make responsible financial decisions, as this can also impact your career and future.

You are the one with ultimate authority over you. Falling short of this is relenting too much power to someone else. Other people are the CEOs of their lives, but certainly not your life. Although we are our own CEO, we will have confidants and trusted advisors. This could be a spouse, sibling, parent or friend. In your career, hopefully you will identify someone who could be your mentor. Most people are honored to serve in that role if you simply ask. With this small team of trusted advisors and your commitment to be a great CEO for your life, new opportunities will come your way.

Gary A. Cohen is associate dean of the Office of Executive Programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is a certified executive coach and prior to joining the faculty at Smith, he had a successful 30-year corporate career, with the last 15 as a senior executive. He can be reached at gcohen@rhsmith.umd.edu, @gary_a_cohen, and on LinkedIn.

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