Do You Need a Five Year Plan?

Planning your career is a lot like planning a trip. You’re either the kind of person who creates a detailed itinerary and sticks to it, or you’re the type of person who likes to remain flexible and plan as you go.

A five-year plan (i.e. defining your goals, exploring your options and creating a game plan) is like a detailed itinerary. You always have your next destination in mind and a course mapped out to reach it. And staying the course makes it easier to filter out distractions along the way.

The more spontaneous career planner, on the other hand, might set out on their career path with only a vague idea of where they’re headed and no road map to get them there. Whereas distractions and detours might be unwelcome to some, they see them as potential opportunities for growth and self-discovery. The big disadvantage to this approach is the danger of missing out on some important career landmarks along the way.

Which approach is better depends on various factors including your age, your temperament, and your financial status. Not having a plan is obviously more sensible if you’re young or financially independent. But even if you’re the type of person who likes to wing it, there’s still value in creating a five-year plan. After all, it’s not something that’s set in stone, and it can be changed or adjusted as needed along the way.

The whole point of the plan isn’t necessarily to reach your destination, but to keep you moving ahead in the right direction. It’s only a guide, not a manifesto. This is especially true if you’re young and just starting out. After all, how many 40 year-olds have the same goals as they did when they were 22? As you gain skills and learn more about yourself, it’s natural for your goals to change or evolve.

According to John D. Krumboltz’s Happenstance Learning Theory, “What-you-should-be-when-you-grow-up need not and should not be planned in advance. Instead career counselors should teach their clients the importance of engaging in a variety of interesting and beneficial activities, ascertaining their reactions, remaining alert to alternative opportunities, and learning skills for succeeding in each new activity.”

The focus of career planning should be about exploration and development as a productive, creative person. And your five-year plan should reflect that by including not only professional goals, but creative and personal goals as well.

We don’t know what the future holds, or even if the jobs and the professions were interested in today will be around tomorrow. So what’s most important is keeping yourself busy, pushing yourself forward and trying new things. And most importantly, to be aware of when an opportunity is too good to pass up, even if it feels like a bit of a risk. In doing so, you’ll be creating your own luck.

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Nicole Cavazos is a Los Angeles-based copywriter and blogger. As a former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog, she covered the job market and wrote advice for job seekers.

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