Is it a good idea to plan your career?

Are you a planner or a chancer? Do you like to draw up lists of life goals that you must achieve – senior partner by the age of 40, MD by 50, married with two kids by 25 – or are you happy to leave things to chance, go with the flow and see what opportunities life brings your way?

“How you choose to plan your career really depends on the sort of person you are,” says Michelle Bayley, a professional life and career coach at Find Your Way Coaching. “If you’re the sort of person who feels nice and secure by planning and who enjoys a sense of knowing where you’re going, then that’s what will work for you.”

There is evidence in coaching circles that having clear and precise goals – and writing them down in the form of a plan – achieves the best results, meaning that you’re more likely to get where you want to get to in the end. But if planning is not for you, don’t worry: there are ways round the issue.

“I have some clients who literally recoil at the word ‘plan’ so we talk about a ‘fluid set of actions’ instead,” says Michelle. “This feels less rigid for them and gives them a more adaptable action plan of how to get where they want to get to.”

Of course, there is a danger that if you plan too rigidly, you might be setting yourself up for some huge disappointments; after all, we can’t always control everything that happens in life. Redundancies, having children, illnesses – these are all events that can throw even the best laid plans up in the air.

“The most important thing is to be flexible based upon your understanding of yourself,” cautions Michelle. “The more you know about what motivates you, what strengths and skills you enjoy using, then the more open you will be to new possibilities.”

While the idea of a career for life is a comforting one for many people, the reality is that there are several roles out there that would be a good match for every individual. It’s also worth remembering that our priorities change as we progress through life, so a career plan that was drawn up in your twenties might look totally different to one that you draw up in your mid-thirties. For example, a high flying exec, who once enjoyed working at a senior level, may get just as much enjoyment and fulfilment in setting up her own internet business if she doesn’t want to return to work full-time after having children – if she understands what she enjoys and what motivates her she can find an alternative path that matches her skills.

“Whatever you do, don’t force yourself to stick to a plan if it’s not right,” advises Michelle. “What’s important is to have a plan that’s right for you. So, if your career goal was to make senior partner in a law firm by the time you’re 35, and you get there to find you don’t actually like the law, don’t be afraid to change your plan.”

So, if you are a planner, try to retain an attitude of flexibility – be curious about yourself and what you enjoy and use these clues to change direction in a way that’s right for you – even the smallest deviation can bring huge results: once you see your career plan as a more fluid set of actions, it can be both liberating and exciting.

© Michelle Bayley 2007

Find out more

Michelle Bayley is a Certified Professional Life, Executive and Career Coach based in Twickenham, South West London.

Read about Michelle’s career coaching, executive coaching and life coaching services, or contact Michelle to arrange a free consultation.