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As life happens, to plan or not to plan your career?

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If you think about it, most of your day is a collection of plans. You may plan to take the dog for a walk, exercise, eat breakfast, drive to work, finish that overdue project, whatever. And then, life happens… The dog runs away, you get lost on your walk and it takes much longer than expected, your car doesn’t start in the morning. And every day we adapt.

When under stress, we decide what is most important at that time, and get it done, and then move to the next thing. For simple, non-life threatening tasks, it is okay to perhaps chaotically recover your day and get back on track. But when lives are at stake, you need a plan.

Fire drills at work, timed to see how fast everyone can get out and where to meet up; that video and demonstration of where the seat belts and exits are on the plane you never listen to that happens before you take off on any flight; every military entity in the world has a battle plan to optimize the outcome for their side. These plans exist to protect you and make sure you survive another day – at the office, in a plane, as a soldier. What about as a CSC’er?

Want to retire someday?

Similarly, all of us at some point, probably would like to retire from work. You need a well thought out plan to make sure you retire with enough money to live the life you would like in your golden years.

Some things you can control – like how much you save – others you cannot – like the stock market. Regardless, having a plan when you start out your career at age 22 to insure you can retire at 67, is a plan that definitely will change as life happens. When you have that retirement plan, that picture in your mind in color of what your life will be like when you retire, allows you to make daily decisions around health, wealth and your family. You may decide to get that Toyota instead of a Mercedes, eat that salad instead of the candy bar, and spend that extra time helping your daughter with her homework, so she can get a great job in the future and is not living at home with you when you retire.

Just simple as 1-2-3: why and how to plan?

You and your family’s livelihood relies on your employment. Your health can be positively or negatively impacted by your job. Most of your daytime hours will be consumed by work at least 5 of 7 days of the week – that’s 71% of your week. So, what you do is pretty important. If it derails, there can be major consequences for you and your loved ones.

So make a plan. A plan for the worst and the best outcomes. I hope you are convinced to make one – now let’s start making it.

1. Create a plan

Every plan has a final state, a destination. Whether it is a plan for a building to be built or something as simple as the route you plan to take to work, in the end the plan represents where you want to end up. And your plan will change just like your route to work may change when you run into traffic or try to avoid that accident ahead. Since you know where you want to go with your plan, you can very easily recover and continue heading towards your goal. Just take control.

Work and therefore your career is a huge part of your life. Work creates the wealth you will need when you retire and your career path, destination (role you want) can have different financial outcomes for you. Your plan should cover the best case, the worst case, and some in between, so you have thought about the potential paths your career can take. Now you can consciously decide which path is best for your circumstances.

2. Ask yourself “where are you going?”

When I speak with someone about their career aspirations, I don’t ask them what is the next job they want in CSC. I ask, what do they want to do for the last job before retirement? What’s that dream job, that if all the stars aligned, they would want? Most people give me a blank stare unless they are 63 years old, but then my next question of “what do you want to do when you retire?” typically brings that blank look on their face as well.

Picturing this final, ultimate, perfect job in color, in vivid detail, will give you a compass heading of the direction you want to go and help you make quick decisions. When you arrive at a decision point, a cross-roads in your career, and need to decide which of the two paths is the best for your career aspirations.

If you have a plan, then you will know (a) you are heading to your planned direction or (b) you are on an unwanted or unplanned detour. Sometimes that unwanted detour takes you to great places you would not have seen otherwise – so it’s okay to take a detour – but you need that compass heading to keep the right direction in your career. To be more specific, that dream job before you retire.

My career aspiration is to become a CEO of a world class Global 2000 company some day. It was not always my career aspiration, but it has been for the last 15 years. Will I get there? Who knows, but I have a vision and a plan to get there – and it is such a big dream, I will be happy if I only get half way there.

3. Adapt to the unexpected

Six months after I joined CSC in California, I was asked to take a role in Nashville, Tennessee in the United States. It was a service delivery executive job in infrastructure services for a large automobile manufacturing company. I was driving from my long time home in San Diego, California with my family in a car to Tennessee to start meeting the people I would work with in this new role when I got a call from my boss in California. He had just taken a new role in Delaware, we had major problems with his clients there, and he needed to make a management change. I pulled over, we spoke about the issues, we agreed on how to insure Tennessee was covered, and I made a left turn in Missouri and headed Northeast to Delaware.

The only way I could make a quick decision on the side of the road in Missouri that going to Delaware was a good career decision was that I had a compass heading for my career. I knew that fixing one of the biggest problems we had in the company with a client at that time would be great on my resume and I knew I had the skills to do that job. It also happened to be a global job while the other one was in the Americas only. It also had more people and financial responsibility. It definitely accelerated my promotion that I received a few months after landing in Delaware. One step closer to CEO, faster than planned, and because I was ready to make that quick decision.

As a family we had already decided to move from California, certainly not to Delaware, but ready to move. And of course, having the full support and trust of my wife (the Saint from my previous blog), also made it possible to make that quick decision. And we have made some life long friends with our neighbors in Delaware we would have never had if we didn’t say – YES!

Nine months later, still hanging up pictures in our new house in Delaware, I got the call to move to Germany. But that’s for another blog, another time.

Using compass heading or facing “life just happens”

Hopefully you will agree with me you need a plan. You need to picture in vivid color your destination. You need to map out the paths to get to that career destination.

Use the compass heading you have towards that career destination to make day to day decisions to insure you are making progress towards that destination.

It is okay to change the route, and even the career destination, when new information or opportunities present themselves – but with a plan, you can make those decisions deliberately, not at the mercy of “life happening to you”.

Plan for the worst, plan and hope for the best, and choose the best career path for you at this time. Life will happen and you will need to adjust the plan, but what is the most important – you still have a plan.

Keep charging, stay healthy, and let me know your thoughts and tools you use to plan your career!

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