How to Start Planning Your Career

During the pandemic-induced WFH (work from home) era, when many people, across ages, are truly at a crossroads in terms of multiple dimensions, I have ended up counseling so many of them on the career planning front that I thought it appropriate to pen down a compendium of the various pieces of advice that I doled out to them!

Career planning is an ongoing process, not a one-off event. We all have heard the cliché revolving around the meticulous planning that goes into a vacation but not into a career. Extrapolating that theme, what’s critical is for people to realize that career planning is a continual, ongoing process. Neither is it a one-off process nor is it episodic in nature. There is a tendency in many people to focus on their career when the going gets tough. Career planning must be done even in the best of times! The end of formal education and the start of a career do not indicate that the planning process is, by and large, done. The way you monitor your health metrics when you are on a fitness drive is the same way you need to constantly recalibrate your expectations and plans. Then, as Shakespeare articulated so well, you can capitalize on the tide in your life to take it at the flood to lead you on to greener pastures.

Know yourself 

Most of us spend our entire lives, competing in the rat race and living up to others’ expectations of us, only for a Eureka moment to hit us during a mid-life crisis. When you realize what you like doing (just as you are clear on what you do not like doing), career planning becomes a breeze. The activity is elevated from a forceful “ticking of the box” approach to an enjoyable, internally driven activity that gives you real joy. Many observers say that while acting on feedback on our improvement areas is important, playing to our strengths, in order to maximize impact, is the key to success & real joy.

Constant goal setting

A Harvard study showed that only 3% of the batch set goals, who went about accomplishing successfully, as opposed to the 97% who went along with the flow. The fear of failure is what holds us back. The way to tackle that is to remember that you miss 100% of the shots that you do not take! Goals need not necessarily be hard-coded accomplishment markers. They can serve as guideposts as well. That’s the reason I worded the approach as “constant goal setting”. Goals motivate you, help you monitor progress, and compel you to take corrective action at the right time.

Capitalize on the knowledge economy

We live at a time where knowledge is not the exclusive preserve of career counselors. At the click of a button, one can figure out trends, opportunities et al. Just as we carry out intense deep-dives when writing a paper on a subject, it is important to stay on top of trends in our target industries constantly so that we can ride the wave rather than play catch-up.

Leverage your social capital

While we evaluate our financial net worth by default, how many of us adopt the same principle in terms of evaluating our social net worth? And just as financial planning indicates the action plan to fill gaps by investing wisely, the gaps in your social net worth are equally critical in terms of pointing out the right actions to further your career. Do you have a mentor? If you had a board of directors, what does it look like? Do you know the movers and shakers in your target industries? More importantly, do they know you or know of you?

Act

The most important step. It is unbelievable how the biggest career derailer is good intentions. Unless the rubber hits the road, the car will not reach its destination. Roadblocks to action include lack of confidence, fear of failure et al. The best way to convince yourself that today is the right time to start is to tell yourself that if you do not act, you are anyway bound to fail! And, along the way, there will be bumps. Resilience is key. The faster you can shake off the dust and march ahead, the faster you get to your goal.

As Evan Thomsen said, “you will not stay in the same job, let alone the same industry, for your working life. Don’t simply wait to adapt… plan on it. Prepare for it. The sooner you completely abandon the boomer career model, the better. For you, your career, and everyone you work with.”

 

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