My Career: Should I have a plan?

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I have been helping a number of my teammates on their growth and development plans over the last quarter.  In doing so, I have been reflecting on whether or not having a career plan is a key to professional success.

The benefits of a plan

  • A plan forces you to think about what is important to you for the future.  It is impossible to think about a plan or a roadmap for your career without consider the question, “where do I want to be in 1, 3 or 5 years?” In thinking about this question, generally the only way to answer it is to work hard to look internally to identify what is important to you.  To me, this is one of the largest benefits of planning.
  • Even if the plan is a loose set of steps, it helps you to take a step.  Sometimes in my professional life, I have felt frozen – like I don’t know what to do next.  A plan can help nudge you forward.  It may help you to read a new book, attend a new online training, or have a mentoring discussion with someone that you respect. Even a small step is better than none.
  • Having a plan allows you to share with those around you what you are interested in doing and why.  This becomes important because at times, those around you can see things that can help you that you may not be able to see.  If you have shared your plan, you can get help from your people.

But there are downsides to a plan as well.  I appreciate how real some of these downsides can feel.

The downsides of a plan

  • You can spend too much time thinking about the plan and not enough time taking steps to make it happen.  The act of planning alone can be what freezes you.  If this is the case for you, an imperfect a step forward or one that isn’t on a “plan” is much better than continuing to stay in place.
  • With a plan, sometimes you can get so focused on executing your plan, the steps that you have outlined, that you miss an opportunity that isn’t wasn’t on the plan.  Todays world of business (and life for that matter) is changing very quickly.  In fact, in my 20+ years of working the speed of change has never been greater.  So, we all have to stay adaptable and willing to let whatever plan we have change based on opportunity.
  • Sometimes by having a “career” plan overemphasizes this part of your life.  It is hard to keep life in balance and planning holistically for your life is probably a better way to think about it.  I will let you know if I ever do this well.  It is hard!

So, my question for all of you reading is which side do you land on?  Is having a “career plan” a priority for you, and how has it helped? or hurt?

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