Plans are overrated
Embarking on a new journey isn’t easy. Our education and careers to date have led many of us to value precise planning, detailed maps, and careful management of risks. But sometimes the tried and tested doesn’t cut it. We need a new mindset, habits, and approach.
As we explore new pathways and options for our career and life we might need to take a small step into the unknown. We might need to try the new, to experiment, to just see what happens.
The process of finding and securing opportunities is less linear than it used to be. Typically jobs were advertised, people applied, a select few were interviewed and a decision was made and a lucky person was hired. Now, it looks different. What role does your extended network play in unearthing opportunity and providing referrals? How do you stand out in a world where everyone seems to have a blog and a perfect Instagram life? Do you even want a traditional job? Are you building a portfolio career? Are you looking to build a ‘side hustle’? Do you want to start a business? Find a collaborator or co-founder? Exciting? Yes. Straightforward? No.
We live in a world that is moving quickly and, perhaps, the momentum of change is speeding up. The acronym VUCA describes a world that is more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Your Grandparents might argue otherwise if they lived through the middle of the Twentieth Century …… but we can probably all agree that the near future will present new challenges and opportunities.
Technology and automation will likely make many traditional careers and roles redundant. Financial Services is a great example of an industry that is in a maelstrom right now where new platforms, products, and players are turning the accepted norms on their head. What will things look like by 2025? We don’t know.
Covid has presented a profound shock to the world, to society, and to our understanding of what work looks like and where it takes place. Perhaps most important of all the global pandemic has precipitated a crisis of meaning as people fundamentally rethink their life, their values, and how they want to spend their precious time on earth.
The economy has, in some ways, proved remarkably resilient but there is a clear delineation between the winners and losers. Working in or invested in the tech domain? The world is your oyster. Not everyone is as lucky. Most work in sectors of the economy that have been damaged and are vulnerable. People need to make that assessment for themselves.
Might now be a good time to create some options for growth and development, to explore some new pathways? Probably? Almost certainly.
Plans vs Planning
My contention to you is that change will come to you whether you are looking for it or not. The only rational thing to do is to welcome it in, embrace it, develop some new habits, and try some new stuff out.
“OK”, I hear you say, “So I need a plan right?”
Well, no, not as such. I think they are a little overrated.
For the reasons I have sketched out above …. uncertainty, rate of change …. it might not be the answer. Mike Tyson stated it a lot more eloquently than I can.
Planning, however, is a different thing. For me, planning is a dynamic, evolving process. It moves out of the classroom, lecture room, or laboratory into the real world. Planning involves developing some hypotheses and then going out and testing them to accumulate learning and momentum …. to see what works.
We need to take care too as the word planning suggests a process. Processes typically have a beginning and end but, actually, I see this as an ongoing process of creative exploration …. experimenting, learning, and refreshing our approach. It is a journey through life. Always focused on growth and always taking steps.
Standing on Firm Ground
The first step in planning is to clarify our vision for our life. To explore our values. I think once we have that clarity we are standing on bedrock and we are ready to step out into the world and experiment.
I will explore this process in more detail in an upcoming post but for now …. spend 10 minutes making some notes on the values you hold dear, prioritise them, discuss them with your friends and why they matter to you. Then, spend another 10 minutes noting down the experiences you have had in your life & career where you have felt most energised. Why did you feel that way, what is this telling you? Then ask 2 or 3 people you trust and who know you to meet you for a coffee ….. ask them what your real strengths are ….. what do you bring to a team or a challenge when you are at your best? Finally, spend 10 minutes describing a day in your working life 5 years from now … what are you doing, where are you, who are you with, how do you feel? Write it in rich, evocative terms.
So, having spent 30 minutes scribbling notes and met some trusted friends you are in better shape than 90% of the people on the planet. You have a good sense of what is important to you, what drives your energy, what your strengths are, and how you would like your working life to look a few years out from now. Well done, you have taken the first step! Armed with the above you are ready to take some more.
Small Steps …. Momentum & Learning
I have spent a lot of time working with people over the years as a mentor and consultant and leader supporting them to get clear, to take some steps, and then to keep moving. The trick is to start, to grab a small win, to build a bit of confidence, and to create energy for the next step. Noone finds it easy to step out of their comfort zone but I hope you buy the line of thinking I have set out above …. change comes to all of our lives whether we like it or not. I believe we live a rich and rewarding life when we step into the world, create agency & ownership, and move forward on our own terms.
The secret is to get some firm ground under our feet and then start taking some small steps. We need to make this a habit, a way of living.
I wanted to share a few quick thoughts around how you might approach trying out some new things.
You’ve got to keep learning …..
Deloitte in their most 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report point out the rapidly diminishing half-life of skills. Organisations and individuals need to invest in lifelong learning. Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, in their brilliant book, The 100-Year Life – Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, clearly demonstrate that the model of spending the first 20 years of our life at home with parents, being educated ahead of going out and conquering the world is no more. We will live longer lives on average, with far more jobs, retire later and face many career pivots. If we are up for this it is going to be an absolutely thrilling journey but we need to take ownership of our learning. New and emerging platforms like EdX will allow us to stack micro-credentials as we constantly augment our knowledge and skillsets to ensure ongoing relevance. Take your first step right now … what is your step into learning for this coming week? Commit and invest in yourself.
It takes a village … community & networking …..
Many of us were brought up through a period of history where society became more atomistic …. individuals and, perhaps, families as separate, independent entities. What we are learning though is that the power of community and network to support, nurture and solve problems is profound. We just can’t do some of this stuff alone. Diverse, creative groups build out better. Communities provide the support and platform for us to take the small steps, to reflect, to learn, and to move forward with confidence and self-acceptance.
Starting today, sit down and map out your network. Perhaps take a look at LinkedIn. Are you investing in your relationships, both close in and more distant ones? What are you giving to your community and your network? Are you of value and service to those around you? How can you build deep equity in these relationships? Plan some active steps, week by week, to reach out, to connect, to go for a walk, to share some new ideas for feedback, to learn, to breathe, and have some fun. Make some new connections. Join a new group. Check out the networking site Lunchclub. Shake things up a little. Challenge yourself with a new perspective and look at the world through the eyes of others. You will be amazed what will happen. It will unleash new ideas, horizons, opportunities, and energy. Try.
If the last 15 months have taught us anything it is that the deep joy of connecting is of profound value. It engages our hearts and our spirits soar and we find the energy to deal with all of life’s challenges. Exploring new life and career opportunities is challenging and we need our community and network for the support, resources, and inspiration required to succeed.
R&R ….. you are your most valuable asset
In some ways this is the most important area to focus on. As many of us have been told, ‘your health is your wealth.’ You need to nurture your own physical and mental wellbeing with great care. Our energy and vitality depend upon what we do in this space. To fully embrace life & opportunity we need to make self-care a practice. We all bring different genetic inheritances but we can all take steps to make improvements. Do you spend time each day in nature, restoring your calm and your nervous system? Do you raise your heart rate each day? Are you eating carefully and intentionally? Are you ensuring you receive the required amount and quality of sleep? Do you spend time quietly, reflecting? Perhaps you meditate? Do you move your body and stay agile? Do you lift heavy weights?
What steps can you take today? How can you make a new contract with yourself to put yourself first? Even if you can commit 10 or 15 minutes a day to moving, make it your priority.
Take a step every week …. make it a practice …..
I would suggest you get yourself a notebook and pen and start writing. Build out some ideas for the coming weeks of the steps you can take that will move you forward. Commit to trying something that feels a little uncomfortable every week or, if you are really brave, every day. Keep moving forward step by step. Once you start you will not want to stop as your courage gets rewarded through new ideas, new energy, and the joy of momentum. Also, remember that you are exploring. You are searching out the new. You will follow some pathways that come to an end and will have to turn back. No problem, you’re learning all the time.
We can over-intellectualize some of this stuff. There is no harm in a bit of the ‘Just F***ing Do It’ mindset. Get someone in your community to hold you to account and just start.
So …. Step Forward
We all need to be explorers today. The world is changing and will continue to do so. A career lasting 40 years with one entity is less likely for most of us and many of us simply don’t want that.
There are new horizons and opportunities aplenty out there for us. New ideas and ventures to create, businesses to be built. New community groups to be set up. There are people that need our help to make their lives better. There is so much learning and growth on offer.
Let’s get out of our own way. Let’s put our misgivings aside just for today and let’s take that first step.