Start the New Year without a plan — From the Career Opportunities Podcast

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In the past, I have written columns on starting the New Year off right in terms of your career. I have told you “Don’t make resolutions, make action items.” (2010) I have said “Get a plan” (2006) and encouraged you to “Start a Journal for the New Year.” This year, however, I have decided to do the opposite. I think 2013 is the year you just might want to begin WITHOUT a plan. After almost 30 years of creating a career, I have seen how plans, dreams and resolutions can often go awry — not because they were bad, but simply because they were inflexible. When the realities of life meet the complexities and chaos of your career, things can fly apart. Rather than fly apart with them, I’m urging you to build some flexibility into your New Year.

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Plans are fine…sometimes

The fact is, planning for the future can be useful and even fun. The problems come in the execution of those plans. Life is constantly throwing us curves and these curves are almost impossible to plan around. If we realize this as we make our way through our life, everything will be fine. We will reevaluate our plans, adjust our work, move things around a bit and continue on in the best way possible.

When we try to stick to our plans religiously, though, nasty things can happen. We can find ourselves sacrificing income, happiness and relationships when we try to stick to “the plan” no matter what. We end up working at jobs we should have left, staying in bad relationships when we should have moved on, wondering how it all went wrong when our reality doesn’t fit the plan.You must remember, it isn’t reality that is wrong when a plan goes awry. Reality is what it is. A plan is just an idea of how we might obtain our wants needs and desires.

Just because we want a 6-figure salary doesn’t mean we are going to get it. Just because we want to meet our future spouse doesn’t make it happen, no matter how much we might plan it. Even if we bull our way through, as if the world is supposed to make our dreams happen, as most of us know intuitively — and the Rolling Stones sang — “You can’t always get what you want.” Perhaps you’re missing a skill to make a new job happen. Maybe you don’t live in the right geographic area to find your dream job. Even the economy could be against you.

In these cases, your plans are roadmarkers, suggestions, a directional compass to guide you one way or the other. If you try to follow that compass ruthlessly, you are almost sure to fail. Instead, you have to take note of the prevailing winds and currents. You need to watch for bad weather so you aren’t trying to sail when the career equivalent of hurricane is on the horizon. Even more importantly, you have to know when to CHANGE your plans. This happens much more often then you might think. To paraphrase a Yiddish Proverb, Men plan and the world laughs.

What? No plans!

So, you might think I am telling you not to plan at all. That is just as ridiculous as trying to follow your plans too closely. The fact is, you should plan, but you need to plan in the right way. First, keep your plans general and keep them open to both interpretation and execution. More general plans can easily be broken down into smaller, easily executable pieces. They also allow you to adapt — insert new tasks and remove those that no longer make sense. You have to watch yourself very closely — taking time to review and think nearly every day. Are you working the plan or is the plan working you? If we stop thinking and begin slavishly following the plan, we are almost guaranteed to have issues.

Rather than a harsh list of resolutions commanding you to be better at this or that, I recommend starting with a few general ideas. Perhaps there is just an inkling of an inkling, a career itch that you feel the need to scratch. Maybe it is just a dream, a wish, a desire. Start there. Start with those ideas that interest you most, not the New Year’s resolution ideas you might be reading elsewhere online. Yes, perhaps like me you need to lose weight, stop biting your nails, return phone calls more quickly or a host of other resolutions. Who doesn’t need to do those things better? Rather start with yourself and those ideas that come to you late at night when you can’t sleep because thoughts are running through your mind. Start with thoughts that hit you with so much force as you are driving to work that you don’t even remember the drive. These are the plans that are more important to you. These are the things that truly matter.

Now, find your most important thoughts and ideas and head into the New Year secure in the fact that you are working your own plan and not letting the plan work you.

What are you planning for 2013? Does this column change your plans? Let me know what you will be doing in the New Year to build the career you deserve!


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