We plan for most things in life.
We decide what we want to study at college or university when we’re kids. As adults, we are drawn to the things and people who allow us to feel we’re growing and expanding our knowledge. We think about the books we want to read, music we want to buy, how we want to look.
We plan almost everything in our lives from what we fancy for dinner tonight to where we want to eventually live, yet it is surprising how many of us don’t think about the one vital piece of that journey – how we’re going to get from A to B in our careers.
Modern psychologists and self-help gurus often advise us with an irritating saying that goes ‘don’t worry about how you’re going to get there, just focus on where it is you want to be.’ That’s all very well and good, but if you don’t have some idea as to HOW you’re going to get somewhere then how will you know you have arrived at where you want to be?
This saying is still a great piece of infinite wisdom. BUT, not for every aspect of your life.
There is, really only one place where you desperately need to have a plan or you will fail and that’s in your career progression.
If I think back to when I first went out to work, I was convinced that all I wanted to do was be a journalist.
Since I left school without sitting my A levels because I needed to get out to work fast, getting to Fleet Street seemed further away that most.
Had I made a constructive plan and focused on a clear goal in my head at the time I turned 17, I would have become the inspirational journalist I wanted to be in half the time.
However, I didn’t, and took an immediate right turn into the Emergency Services in 1991 instead where I sat for the next ten years.
The conclusion of this story is that I didn’t get to be a journalist until I was well into my 30’s. Taking a trip around the houses took longer than it should have done had I planned my chosen career. It cost me more money than I had and wasted many precious years I can’t get back.
Would I have done it differently? Heck, yes!
Why people don’t plan their careers
The problem for most of us, is that we fall into jobs rather than careers and usually to benefit someone else rather than for ourselves.
I joined the Ambulance Service not for me but to impress my family. Many of them had carved out long careers in the Ambulance Service, Armed Forces and Police so I wanted to find appreciation and acknowledgement for my apparent chosen path.
We tend to slip into things where we feel we are meant to be rather than where we actually want to be. Of course, I speak for many people. Some of us are lucky to focus early on, on what we want. But for the rest of us, we struggle often finding it difficult to fit in somewhere because we are not being true to ourselves. If we were honest, many of us would be somewhere else, doing something else.
Life can sometimes dictate to us to walk a certain path only because we feel we have to conform to what everyone else is doing. The upshot of this process is that we end up unhappy with almost everything else in our lives simply because we conform to the wrong type of life, like wearing an ill-fitting suit. We feel uncomfortable and restless.
The 7 key benefits of planning your career path
There are a wide number of reasons why making a plan in your career is something you can’t afford not to do:
- Saves you years in drifting about doing jobs you would prefer not to do for half the money.
- Can double if not triple your salary once you get there.
- Can save you tens of thousands of pounds because you haven’t wasted any time.
- You can enjoy your life earlier.
- Being true to yourself and who you are.
- You’re likely to be healthier and live longer.
- Possibly even retire decades before everyone else.
Actually, the list of benefits is endless.
So, what are the first steps you need to take?
The first thing, I have to point out before we dive straight in, is that it really is never too late to make a career plan. I didn’t start my own one until I was in my 40’s, so even if you are older (or younger) it really makes no difference.
Below is my guide to finding the right career path. It is made up of things you need to remember as well as important steps. Follow them through and stick to where ever it is you want to go. Get clear to your image in your mind and hang on to it, no matter what.
1. First of all, get absolutely clear as to where you want to go.
Often people think, ‘well, I’d like to do X but not exactly sure what.’ Then they take a vague route in what they think is the right direction only to not get to where they thought they wanted to be. Get clear and as specific as you can on where you want to be. If you can’t then think of other aspects of your life and work out how much (realistically) you need to make then find a career goal that matches that need.
2. Don’t think about the very next step, concentrate on the one after it
This is an odd one. One of the things that makes Ronnie O’Sullivan a world-class snooker player is that he is always thinking about the next shot after the one he is about to take. Always think that one step ahead of where your next move will be. That way, you will automatically know where you need to be right now to make that vital next move after it.
3. Remember: worthy goals never happen over night. Stick it out, no matter how long it takes
It took me about 15 years before I got anywhere where I had wanted to be all those years before. Yet, I didn’t give up.
All the time I was serving with Surrey Ambulance Service, I took courses, went to Night School and wrote endlessly for newspapers, theatres and magazines, often being turned down, yet I didn’t give up.
It was only in 2003 that a Canadian editor gave me a chance to be a UK reporter for his paper. I stayed there for 7 years, not giving up the day job and working well into each night writing news and current affairs articles for a Canadian audience. I wasn’t getting paid a great deal – not enough to give up the day job but I was STILL getting paid – making me a professional journalist. I went on to be an Editor in Chief in 2013.
4. Any worthy goal will take longer to achieve than a less worthy one
My whole journey in journalism from beginning to end took me just over 20 years. But I got there. It might seem like a heck of a long time, but this is what I mean about worthy goals. The universe has a perverse way of testing you. It will say ‘ok, so you want X, now let’s see how much you really want it,’ and it will test you beyond measure.
Stick it out, prove your doubters wrong and you WILL get there.