I never put much time into mapping out my career. Having graduated with a degree in biology, I thought research was where I wanted to be for the rest of my life. I soon discovered that working in a laboratory was a lonely place to be. At some point, I learned that I needed more interaction with others than I was getting.
This revelation led me to staying open to what would fulfill my need to work collaboratively and be able to help more people in my work life. I’ve had a long, rich (and unusual) career in a number of disciplines unrelated to biology, without ever mapping out my career path in detail. Knowing that I was a “people person” seemed to be one of the keys that helped me to thrive.
On the other hand, many of the leaders I know have gazed into their crystal balls and mapped out their careers decades ahead of where they are now, and in great detail. There is often little rationale for the path they’ve designed except that they believe it’s what they want because they’ll have more responsibility, more money, or otherwise satisfy expectations that have been imposed on them by others (family, society).
If you are one of those leaders and it’s working for you, then great! Many of you may prefer flexibility in your career choices based on what you know about yourself and what’s most important to you. This makes career planning in great detail irrelevant.
How do you plan for flexibility? Consider the following steps:
Know yourself: Knowing what motivates you along with your strengths, weaknesses, skills and talents is a great way to start your career plan. Leadership runs a broad spectrum and being clear about who you are and what you’re best at is a great way to begin looking at what would be a good fit for you at some point in the future. Make the investment in a consultant, career counselor or coach who can help you with this part of your journey; having a professional help you to get started will be well worth the money you spend.
Know your values: Many leaders, when asked, don’t know what they value in a precise or unambiguous way. Knowing explicitly what is important to you (what you value) provides an anchor that generally doesn’t change over time, and one that you can “test” your possible career moves against. For instance, if family is a top value for you, you may choose to take a path that doesn’t require a great deal of business travel.
Stay open and alert for leadership positions and careers that will bring out the best in you and that will fulfill you based on what you know about yourself and what you value. For many of us, knowing who we are at our core can provide a variety of options and lead us in the right direction. Check possible career options against what you know about yourself by asking: “Will this position/career play to my strengths?” and “Will it fulfill my deepest values?”
For many of us, this may be as much career planning as we care to do. When we stay true to who we are, career fulfillment can follow.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and owner/operator of Aspire Collaborative Services. She and her team work with organizations around the globe to create coaching programs and coach leaders to become the best they can be.