Simple Career Planning (Even If You Don’t Know What You Want To Do With Your Life)

by | Aug 6, 2013 | Interviews & Inspiration | 16 comments

C areer planning used to be a pretty depressing exercise for me.

I found it nearly impossible to see into my future. I  wasn’t excited about any of the executive level jobs I knew about, and frankly, the people in them didn’t seem to enjoy them that much either.

I’d reach out to a mentor for advice and invariably they would ask to look at my 5 and 10-year career plan. I would stare at them blankly.

“How can I make a 5-year career plan, or even a 1-year plan, when I have no idea what I really want to do” I would ask them.

They were used to people who could pinpoint the pinnacle of the career they wanted, down to the exact job title and organization. Career planning for them was merely a process of walking backwards.

I just didn’t fit the mold.

I worried about pinning my hopes on just one job.  Too many unknowns! The world (or my heart) might change! I might get locked into something I don’t want!

So I became an opportunist. I waited for interesting or prestigious-sounding jobs, then jumped on them.

And that largely worked for me, unless you consider that I was advancing myself in a career I didn’t particularly care about.

For all these reasons, I thought long-term career planning was a waste of time.

I’m here to say I was wrong.

I recently discovered a surprising tool for making sense of the big picture of your career, even if you can’t fill in the details. And it turns out to be critical if you want to combine the growth that you’re hoping for with a lifestyle you’ll love.

You can’t separate your career from the rest of your life.

Isn’t this the big mistake we all make?

We plan our careers, only to realize we’ve short-changed the important relationships in our lives. Or we live for the weekends, trying to stuff everything that matters into 48 hours while our jobs are just a way to pay the bills.

So I was surprised during an interview with business planning expert Ellen Rohr when she cautioned against trying to make business plans outside of life plans. It’s actually a bit embarrassing for me to admit that even 2 years in, I’d never created a business plan. Since I’m not trying to grow an empire or get venture capital funding, what was the point?

The point is that your career or business venture can get seriously out of whack with your goals, priorities, and values unless you have a plan for it. 

This is, I think, one of the biggest mistakes that new entrepreneurs make. But isn’t it also one of the biggest mistakes that those in more traditional careers make too? I remember one ambitious father who described how his young daughter screamed when he returned home from one of his many trips. He’d been gone so much, she didn’t recognize him and thought he was an intruder.

What’s sad is that, as I talked to him about his career, I became convinced the travel wasn’t actually necessary to achieve his goals. He was reacting more out of anxiety–he wanted to appear busy, connected, and useful in hopes of getting promoted.

So when Ellen described a super simple method for creating a business plan that took no longer than a weekend, I vowed to do it. Creating a “lifestyle business,” as people like to call it now, was the whole point of becoming an entrepreneur.

But as I worked my way through the exercises, discussing them with my husband, he said, “Jen, you have to share this on the blog. Everyone needs to do this.”

So I say, let’s do this together. Let’s create a life/career/business plan that you’re excited to wake up to.

Ellen goes into much more detail on the steps in the video below, but one of the most important things she emphasizes is avoiding your perfectionist tendencies–which for the readers of this blog is a very necessary caution! There are time limits of 1-2 hours max for any one step.

Life will change. Your plan will change. Your ideas will morph. It’s all okay.

Can’t see the video? Click here to download the MP4 file.

Step 1: Define the perfect life

This is critical for new businesses if you don’t want to burnout in the first six months. But it’s equally relevant to those in more traditional careers. To decide if you want to pursue a promotion, a sabbatical, or change careers, you need to have a clear vision of what your perfect life looks like first. Getting this right is probably harder than you think!

Step 2: Write a mission statement

To understand the relevance here, I performed a sneaky psychological experiment on Facebook, asking people what the meaning of life was. I purposely left my wording ambiguous, so people could interpret the question in a variety of ways.

The answer you come up with is like a personal mission statement.

The trick is to avoid being vague. The most popular answer was “to be a good person.” That’s a good start, but ideally your meaning of life is specific enough that you can use it to drive decision-making about your career options.

Your mission statement will help you zero in on what a meaningful business/career means for you, how you’ll know if you’ve succeeded, and whether or not there are conflicts with the perfect life you came up with in Step 1.

Step 3: Prepare an elevator speech

Once you’ve done Steps 1 and 2, communicating what you want is a lot easier. And it doesn’t have to involve naming a specific job title or products that you want to offer.

It’s sounds super cliche, but when my No Regrets clients work through their definitions of success (a more thorough version of what you’ll do in Steps 1 and 2), many of them start getting job offers or interviews out of the blue. It’s not the law of attraction. It’s that they finally have to words to communicate, sometimes without being consciously aware of it, the value they have to offer and the industries and causes they want to dedicate themselves to.

Very powerful!

Step 4: Plot your org chart

Now even as a business owner, I had my doubts about this one. But it’s also true that work environment is one of the most overlooked aspects of career planning.

Where’s your ideal fit in an organization? Who do you most want to be working with? How is your choice informed by your tendency for introversion or extraversion?

Step 5: Draft the financial plan

John Bogle starts his book Enough with the following anecdote

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds,“Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . enough.”

What’s enough for you or your family? How important is money to your future career goals? You need to put a number on it–a real number based a life you know you’d be happy living.

Step 6: Marketing

Once you’ve got everything above, it’s time to take control and make it happen. No more waiting for an interesting opportunity. No more hoping to be picked from the pile. And the more unconventional your approach, the more likely it is to succeed.

As I said, I thought this was such an important process, I decided to do it myself. And Ellen kindly agreed to critique my efforts!

To see what I came up with and how you can use the exact same process to take control of your career or business, join Ellen and I for a live webinar.

Date: Thursday, Sep 5
Time: 2 PM Pacific/5 PM Eastern/10 PM BST
To register for this FREE webinar CLICK HERE

If you’ve ever wanted to do one of my paid courses in career design, but felt you couldn’t afford it, I urge you to join us for this webinar. It’s totally free (nothing to sell) and we’re going to cover simple steps you can take to find clarity and meaning in your career.

If you’d like feedback on your answers, send me your career/business plans (whatever you’ve got) by Sep 1, and I’ll incorporate some of them into the webinar. We’ll also have time for general Q&A at the end.

This is definitely one not to miss!