In a recent Eat Your Career community poll, there was a resounding request for more information on career planning. As always, your wish is my command!
One of the first questions I always hear around the topic of creating a career plan is this: “Do I really need one?”
If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, it can be tempting to put this task on the back-burner. After all, isn’t enough to just know you want to be successful? Isn’t the simple goal of staying gainfully employed a worthy aspiration? And, if you continue to show up and do your job, won’t you naturally progress forward in your career?
In my experience, that’s just not how it works. I firmly believe that everyone needs a comprehensive career plan, regardless of experience level and future ambitions. The workforce is a highly competitive place. If you’re goal is just to “keep up,” you’ll ultimately fall behind. Progress is not a given. You have to work for it.
What is a Career Plan?
For those who don’t know what I mean by a career plan, here’s a simple description:
A career plan is a written document used to define and prioritize goals and professional development activities. It is also referred to as a Professional Development Plan.
Why is a Career Plan Useful?
The process of creating a career plan is, in my opinion, as beneficial as the finished product. There are several reasons why this exercise is useful. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Writing inspires clarity
- Clarity inspires commitment
- Commitment inspires action
- Action inspires growth
- Growth inspires motivation
Let’s look at each step in more detail.
Writing inspires clarity
The very act of writing out your career goals (along with the professional development activities required to make them happen) improves your chances of success. Some studies suggest the likelihood of fulfilling your goals increases by 50% or more when they’re committed to paper.
When goals are not written down, they tend to remain vague. Your understanding of them changes based on circumstance. Your mind plays tricks on you and, before you know it, you’re justifying lack of progress or convincing yourself you’re on track when you’re really not.
As you write your goals, they gain substance. I recommend using the SMART goal-setting methodology. This process helps you visualize what it is that you really want from your career. You’re no longer headed in some general direction; you’re now aiming for a crystal-clear destination.
Clarity inspires commitment
With clarity comes commitment. Once you know what you want and put it down on paper, you become psychologically attached to it. Your brain now starts looking for ways to make it happen.
It’s much easier to give up on a goal that remained in your head than it is to give up on one you’ve written down. Even if you’ve shown it to no one, you feel a greater sense of obligation. You’ve made a promise to yourself. You’ve put it “out there” in a tangible form.
The career plan also provides structure, including timelines and specific action steps. When you know what you’re supposed to do and when you’re supposed to do it, keeping your commitment is much easier.
Commitment inspires action
Once you’re truly committed to reaching your goals, you’ll feel compelled to take action. In the process of developing a career plan, you define exactly what actions you need to take to move forward, so there’s no excuse.
Action might be something as simple as taking a class, reading a book, or volunteering to lead a project at work. Because you’re committed to reaching your clearly defined goals and you know these actions are required to get there, fear, laziness and indecision dramatically decrease.
Action inspires growth
Action is the cornerstone for growth. When you’re taking consistent action toward achieving your goals, growth is the inevitable result. It happens naturally.
Further, the actions you take will be well thought-out. They won’t be impulsive. This minimizes wasted energy and resources. You’ll be taking appropriate, decisive and purposeful action.
As you take action and experience growth, your commitment is re-enforced and you continue to gain more clarity. This, in turn, expands your capacity for more growth. It’s a powerful and positive cycle.
Growth inspires motivation
Finally, the experience of growth will push you forward like nothing else. As you advance toward your goals and expand your capabilities, internal motivation and self-worth will soar.
Growth is empowering, so it enhances your desire to keep going. Sure, there will be times when you still struggle. But your career plan will help get you back on track quickly. You’ll look at the progress you’ve already made and you’ll know that whatever obstacles you face, you can overcome them.
At this point, you may be thinking, “Okay, Chrissy. You’ve convinced me. I need a career plan. So, what now?”
Well, simply put, it’s time to get started. There’s no time like the present.
I’ve put together a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to walk you through the planning process. It includes proven strategies, techniques, and interactive exercises to help you define and prioritize goals, establish action steps, and set deadlines. Plus, it includes a simple fill-in-the-blank template to create your personalized plan.
If you’re seeking clarity, commitment, action, growth and motivation, it’s time to develop your career plan. Yes, you really need one.