Why you dont always need a career plan

When we’re younger, we imagine our future selves on a career path akin to a ladder (it’s called the career ladder, after all!) where every single step we take is one step ahead towards our final, dream career. However, as we’ve all experienced, careers are more like jungle gyms; there are obstacles to overcome, sideways steps to take and repeated failure before we can master getting over the top. 

If we’ve no idea of what barriers we are going to run into along the way, and can’t track your progress in a linear fashion, then what is the point of even making a career plan?

As discussed in our blog Why setting goals can be bad for your career there are a number of reasons why goals setting can actually be a hinderance, making us so focused on the job at hand, that we fail to develop other skills and gain other experiences that would actually have been more useful to our career. 

And if you do find that your career has been very much here, there and everywhere, (and are embarrassed about the fact) take solace in David Epstein’s book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. He suggests that in taking a number of different paths we actually gain the skills we need to succeed in the workplace, especially one affected by rapid changes in technology and globalisation. 

In experimenting with a number of different paths you’ll also be better able to know what you want and don’t want from your career, which means that, over time, you can start to narrow down your options and choose something truly right for you. 

You’ll find problem solving another useful skill gained from jumping from one career move to another. Problem solving requires a diverse knowledge base and the ability to frame challenges in different ways, so that you can take your experience from one project and apply it to another, completely different project. 

How do you go about becoming better at finding new, alternative projects to take on?

1. Volunteer for experiences outside you main area of expertise

Even within your company, taking on something new will help you meet new people, better understand how the business works as a whole, step outside your comfort zone and learn a new skill. 

2. Network

As much as we all hate it, networking is so important for your career. The more people you know, the better opportunities you’ll have, and the more opportunities you have, the more likely you are to find something you love and succeed in it. 

3. Don’t make work the focus of your life

Doing things beyond the 9 to 5, whether it’s netball practice or picking up groceries for your neighbours is a great way to meet new people and make further connections. You never know who you might run into and what chances they might offer, plus taking time off from the daily grind, is often when the best ideas come to us. 

In this way, you’ll not be leaving your career up to chance - regardless of whether you have a career plan, or not, and you’ll create more opportunities for yourself in which to build a strong foundation for the next part of your working life. And even though your might find that some paths were in the wrong direction, you’ll know for next time that they were not the best for you. 

So next time you are embarrassed to describe your career path (with no plan involved!) as a multitude of stops and starts and twists and turns, here’s how to reframe your experience:

Instead of ‘I’m holding fast and never giving up on a career idea I have, it’s hard work that pays off in the end’ but finding that at the end of the process you’re unhappy in the decision you’ve made,  how about ‘I’m holding fast and never giving up on finding work that suits my needs and my personality. I’m not quite there yet, but the opportunities I’ve had, and the projects and people I have encountered, have led me to determine what I enjoy in the workplace and what my forte is. I’m going to take this knowledge, and continue to use it and grow and develop within the workplace.’

You can also recognise where you’ve grown so far, who you’ve met along the way, the experiences you’ve had, and what you’ve learnt both personally and professionally. 

Are you a serial career switcher or someone that hasn’t yet found the right path? We’d love to hear your story and see how reframing your experience has worked for you.