Everything we do is building up to something greater. Careers are a constant progression, where what we do today morphs into what we do tomorrow. Ask yourself if what you’re doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow. That doesn’t mean you have to have a specific position in mind, but an idea of how you want to grow and what will help you to do that. Of course, skill development is critical to that, but so is our work product – what we deliver on a day to day basis that proves we are ready for more. So, in your quest for tomorrow, don’t forget about today.
Planning out your career can help you to determine what skills you need to build and where to invest your time. However, there are a few things you shouldn’t do when developing and implementing your plan:
Assume that things will remain constant – Life can be very unpredictable, as can be careers – independently or because of each other. You may switch companies, decide to start a family, or market factors may shift dramatically, as we saw with the dot com bust. Ultimately, if your environment doesn’t change, it’s likely you will. We are constantly evolving and learning new things about ourselves and our interests. Imagine yourself ten or even five years ago; are you the same person today as you were then? If your plan is too specific and dependent on today’s reality, which, of course, it will be, because unfortunately we can’t predict the future, you may find yourself closed out of opportunities.
Stick by your career plan no matter what – In the same grain, don’t get caught up in the details of the plan, insisting on doing exactly what it says and nothing else. That lack of predictability I mentioned means that career planning requires flexibility. “Instead of envisioning the perfect job and planning out the perfect path to get there, begin with a direction, based on a real desire, and complement that with a strategy to discover and create opportunities consistent with what you want you want to do,” advised Forbes contributor Paul B. Brown. Focus on the outcome and realize there are many paths to get there. When things veer off course, don’t panic. Good career planning involves having back up plans, the flexibility to improvise when things change, and the realization that it’s just a plan, not a contract.
Not know yourself – The best way to find out what you are good at and most interested in is by experience – trying, failing, and succeeding. It is through these experiences that we may discover that the things we thought we liked, because someone told us to do it or because we were good at it or because it was the only thing we had done before, are not actually the things that we are passionate about. Creating a meaningful career plan takes deep self assessment. Skill and interest are not the same thing, and both need to be considered. But if you aren’t sure of where your career path is headed, start by just being willing to try new things.
Limit your development to on the job – Once you do determine the direction you are headed, you will want to start building your skills and expanding your experiences. However, it is a mistake to think the only place to do that is at work. In our interconnected and mobile world, you have access to many, enriching opportunities outside the office. Whether you decide to join a professional association, participate in a regular tweetchat, or take classes online, you will benefit both your career and personal development in ways you couldn’t do only on the job.
It’s not fun to admit, but we don’t know everything. We don’t know where we will be in five years or what we will be doing. That doesn’t mean that creating a career plan is pointless. Instead focus on broadening your plan, taking it step by step, and allowing room for personal growth. It’s ok if your path leads somewhere unexpected; those are often the best experiences.