How To Make a Long Term Career Plan That Actually Helps

A career plan: we should all have one, right? But it can be hard to know where to start, or what you should do with it once you’ve made it. This can be especially challenging when you’re just starting off in your career – you manager asks what you want from your job, and don’t really know what you want beyond ‘just progression’.

A child stand in the countryside, holding up a map.
Photo By Annie Spratt

Today, I want to tell you a little about how I manage long term career planning for myself, and how I use that to make regular evaluations of those plans and my progress towards them.

A Plan Is a Guide to The Next Step, Not a Rigid Set of Rules

It’s easy to think of a career plan as something rigid and unchanging; a plan that you must stew over and perfect every detail, and then stick to forever. This can make a career plan a very intimidating document. How do you think it all through? How do you know if you’re on track or not? What if you’ve made the wrong plan and won’t be happy!?

Instead, think of a career plan as a framework to help you process your feelings and observations in order to plan out next steps. You can then regularly use this framework to evaluate your current path and chosen destination.

Imagine, you’ve been dropped in the wilderness without knowing where you are or how to get back. Perhaps you climb to the top of a large tree nearby and look out around you. As you look to the north, you can see smoke rising in the distance, maybe it’s a camp? You decide to head towards it and find out.

A person standing in the clearing of a forrest.
Photo by Robert Bye

After walking for a couple of hours, your progress is halted by a wide, rushing river, and there’s no way you can cross it. There’s no way to continue to the north now. It’s time to revaluate your plan, heading north was a great idea in absence of more information, but now you know about the river, is heading that way, still the best path? Perhaps you can see something else from here? Perhaps north is still the best direction, but you need head a different way for a little to find a place to safely cross and head back.

That’s the thing with plans: You need them, they give you direction of purpose, but the most successful people are always considering their plans – changing and tweaking them to ensure they’re making the best choices for the current data they have. Changing a plan is not a failure, it doesn’t mean your plan wasn’t good enough. Changing plan means you are in control and evaluating input data.

Where Do You Start?

Just like with the above example, you start not with the next step right in front of you, but with the destination, and figure out next steps from there.

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