Why You Shouldn't Take Career Plans Seriously

Your plans are really just your best guess, and sometimes your best guess needs revising.

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Do you have a dream? A big goal for your career? If you have read any amount of self-help or business success literature, you’re familiar with goal-setting and planning. Set a big hairy audacious goal for yourself, then identify the steps to get there.

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This approach to planning for the future can be incredibly helpful. But it can also become an obstacle if you actually start to take it seriously.

Too often, people identify their goal and then say, “This is what I’m going to do to get there. This is what needs to happen.” Then, as they are taking the steps they have so elegantly laid out, they run smack into the messy, uncooperative, sometimes outright belligerent nature of reality. Things don’t work out they way they planned. Steps they thought would work fall flat on their face. Things take ten times as long as they would have predicted.

If they take their plans seriously, the fact that reality isn’t cooperating with the imaginary picture they have created creates friction in their minds. “This isn’t working. I thought I could make it happen, but see? I can’t.” The disconnect between their fantasized reality (i.e., their plan of action to reach their goal) and the less-than-elegant reality they encounter can be discouraging and disheartening.

[See 3 things to do when you feel like a failure.]

Instead of taking your plans seriously, treat them as what they are – a made up picture of the future that might, or might not, lead you where you want to go. Rather than giving you a cast-in-stone map of how to get where you’re going, they offer clarity around a direction to take and a series of steps to take. But those steps are only valid until you take one that doesn’t work.

If each and every step you take works smoothly, excellent! Celebrate your good fortune. But if, as is often more likely, you run into an unanticipated roadblock along the way, don’t say, “Oh, this isn’t going to work after all.” Simply stop and say, “Oh, this is where the plan was off.” Then use the opportunity to revise the plan.

[View more career advice at U.S.News Careers.]

Revising the plan doesn’t mean giving up on the goal. It just means making adjustments to the steps you’re making. Sometimes it will simply mean finding a way to get past the obstacle you’re encountering so you can jump back on track, while other times it might be a complete shift in the path you’re following to get where you want to go.

For any goal, for any dream, there are multiple ways to get there. Getting stuck in the imaginary reality of a plan will bog you down in the mistaken notion that there is only one. Obstacles and roadblocks don’t mean it can’t be done. They simply call attention to where your best guess – that is, to say, your plan – needs revising.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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