April 15th, 2021


career plans

I feel like there's a lot of oddly specific career advice about achieving your hopes and dreams. Chart a five year plan! Set your goals! Make a vision board! Be intentional!

It never really fit with me, and I'm realizing that it's because I was never 100% sure what I wanted to do. I'm still not. I'm 40, what do I want to be when I grow up? Do I have to KNOW?

And I had the feeling I wasn't the only one, because when I'd hear leaders at my company talk about their lives, none of them ever said "Well I'm CEO today because it was in my five year plan." There was a LITTLE planning, but they pretty much just ended up there.

Michelle Obama's book nailed it too... she said she doesn't even like asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, because it's pointless! When she was little, she was terribly intimidated by the question. And she definitely never said, "I want to be a lawyer, then run a hospital, then a non-profit, then first lady of the united states, then an author and have a podcast..." come on.

So yeah, screw the goals.

I like the hedgehog principle from the book Good to Great. It says that successful people find work in the intersection of three things:

1) They like what they're doing
2) They're good at it
3) The world needs it enough to pay for it

I like canoeing down spring-fed streams but the world isn't going to pay me for that, so it's a good thing I also like fixing airplanes and the world needs those... I wasn't good at it, but I've picked up some things. I guess of the criteria, that's the "be good at it" is the one thing that you have the most potential to change yourself.

Which brings me to my very slow point here... if you don't even have anything that fits in THOSE things, that's when you ask for help from your boss at work. Or friends in the world, or professional mentors.

So many people do not. You'd be surprised. So many people don't care.

If you can't say to your boss "Here is my goal how do I get there?" you could do this instead:

"I don't want to be one of those people who does the same thing every day. If there's anything holding me back, would you be brutally honest and tell me?"

"I want to be a valuable member of this team. I want people to be happy that I'm here. What ARE they saying about me? If it's nothing, how can I make more of a mark?"

"What's the difference between me, and the people who are the most important to our group? What can I work on?"

"There are things I see that I'd like to improve around here. How can I get the influence and support to DO it? I know there are a few high priorities, but if I don't mess those up could I carve out a little time to make this a better place for us all to work?"

Maybe you're not feeling it this week. Maybe you're tired, work is wearing you down. I have those days.

But I have run into a lot of people who are tired or frustrated or working too many hours, and, well... it's them. There are things they could improve on. They won't believe me. They're not ready to hear it, they're not asking to hear it. They can't take it. So I try to say it but it doesn't sink in. The discussions drop down to have less and less impact, and until finally all I can do is help them understand what the minimums are. They will do the same thing every day. They'll tell themselves that this is what it is to be a worker. "I'm not one of those five year plan, super ambitious, kill myself for this place PEOPLE," they say. They identify as a cog in the machine, so that's where they are. Maybe, is all I think. Maybe.