I kept hitting a wall.
Every time I thought about creating a 3 to 5 year career plan, my mind would simply go blank. I had no idea where to start on such a project. In fact, the whole idea of a 3 to 5 year plan seemed like a total drag to me. How the heck was I, a 22 year old, supposed to know what I’d be doing in 3 to 5 years?
In 1999, a plan sounded like a good idea and like gibberish to my young adult mind. The following questions became top of mind for me as I reflected on this subject:
- If career planning is such a great idea, why do most of us encounter such difficulties with actually creating a 3 to 5 year plan?
- Why do so many of us suffer from what feels like writer’s block in our career and professional development?
- Why have many of us never put a plan on paper?
As I have been reflecting on these questions, a few ideas have come to mind:
- We are limited by narrow agendas
- We are conditioned to accept a plan that we did not help create
- We need an inspiring vision
1) Limiting agendas.
What education, mentoring, or coaching was I provided in the area of career planning? None, that I can recall during my primary education. Everything had been laid out for me and my peers: 6 years in elementary school, 2 years in middle school, 4 years in high school, and another 4 years in college. I had been very committed to that plan and successfully accomplished each educational milestone on that track.
Then, at 22 years old, I hear that I “should” create a 3 to 5 year plan. My plan, like most first generation professionals, was to graduate from college, get a “good” job, and climb the corporate ladder. I know that many others continue to share that same agenda. I was not prepared to think beyond that limited plan.
Guess what? A 3 to 5 year plan never materialized in my younger professional days. Instead, I proceeded from project to project as a consultant, knew that the career track of becoming a “partner” in a firm was definitely not for me, and, like many people, escaped the corporate world by going back to graduate school. My young adult mind was right! I had no idea that I would return to graduate school in order to pursue a masters degree in Transpersonal Psychology in 2004.
2) Following the steps on the ladder.
The idea of “climbing the corporate ladder” was planted in my mind at a very early age. I grew up in the 1980s culture of “big business.” Of course, my impressionable mind was enthralled by the glamorous images of business professionals making their mark in New York City. I have a belief that the greatest period of success with “climbing the corporate ladder” occurred in the 1980s and then peaked in the 1990s.
Since then, the corporate ladder has fallen on hard times. In fact, last year, I read about the “career ladder” being replaced by the idea of the “career lattice.” Instead of progressing in a linear fashion up a career ladder, many people may find that their career takes them in a variety of directions because of multiple job changes due to global trends like outsourcing, balancing work priorities with other life responsibilities, economic downturns, etc.
Unfortunately, I believe that we continue to give the idea of “climbing the corporate ladder” a lot of influence in measuring our career success. More significantly, our attention to this traditional and somewhat obsolete idea limits our ability to think creatively as professionals.
Consider the fact that a corporate ladder is controlled and defined by a business organization. As a new professional, I was aware that the set path in my company went like this: 2 years as an Analyst, 2 years as a Consultant, 2-4 years as a Senior Consultant, 2-4 years a Manager, 2-4 years as a Senior Manager, and ultimately Partner. By accepting such a linear model, it is very easy to just follow the track and conform to what’s expected. There’s no need to think about a 3 to 5 year plan, it’s already been defined for you.
3) Putting the plan before the vision.
What do you want to be known for? What skills do you want to develop? Have you explored multiple career options for using your talents and living your values? What professionals inspire you? How much free time do you want? What type of impact do you want to have on people and the world? These and many other questions that appeal to your imagination and essential motivations will inspire you to create a plan that you will happily put into action.
My early professional vision was limited by the types of companies that I was exposed to during my career search and then by what I thought was possible within the firm that I selected. I now know that I started my career by accepting a position that had little connection with who I was or wanted to be as a professional. I skipped the valuable phase of career and professional exploration. Therefore, the most skillful 3 to 5 year plan for my young professional self would have been to answer those introspective types of questions.
Ironically, I have always loved the process of planning and organizing. This week, I visited one of my favorite free assessment sites, SimilarMinds.com and took a 58 question “Career Inventory Test”. My results: The Planner. Even I, a natural born planner, encountered a creative block on the subject of the 3 to 5 year plan. The simple and common sense truth is that you have to know where you want to go in order to make a resourceful and effective plan to get there.