We recently had a piece featured in GQ Australia around the importance of making a realistic assessment of where you are right now before embarking on exciting career plans. Because, in the absence of such an assessment, the journey is undermined from the very start.
I will use a metaphorical example to explain this crucial point. Let’s say that you’re currently in San Diego, California and you ultimately want to get to Sydney, Australia. Understanding that you are in San Diego is the first critical piece of information you need to plan the journey.
As you start to think through the logistics of the journey, however, there are other factors that will come to mind, such as:
Understanding these things is crucial for you to adequately plan your journey, even if you don’t have solutions for them today. The first mistake that most people make in life is that either they don’t get started on a journey because they are aware of obstacles that seem insurmountable, or they start in ignorance of the issues that they will face, and then they are not prepared when the obstacle arises. In the absence of an obvious solution to foreseeable obstacles, it feels foolish to start something that will just become painful (emotionally and financially) when it isn’t successful. The majority of advice from well-meaning personal development experts is that you should just “get started” and that solutions that you can’t contemplate today will present themselves. This is very difficult advice for us to take. It’s like the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indiana needs to take a leap of faith that the path will appear before him if he will only take the step. Our life is not a movie and logic tells us that the consequences of a mistake will be severe. As we haven’t developed the confidence in our ability to complete this journey, it’s very difficult and often foolish to have blind faith that things will work out.
We need something more than just advice telling us to have faith and to get started. We need a plan that allows us to have some visibility on the journey and how we will deal with the major challenges that will present themselves. With a well-devised plan, we can identify the major decision points in the journey and take action well before these decision points so that we are prepared when the time comes.
Imagine if an airline pilot took the advice to “just get started” without making sure there was enough fuel for the journey.
Having said all that, it is true that any plan to achieve major success, will ultimately be complex and take time. No matter how well you plan now, you won’t be able to foresee all of the major aspects and challenges of the journey but as the journey unfolds you will develop confidence in your capability, and indeed solutions will present themselves. The key, of course, is to plan as best you can and then start. As obstacles present themselves you will need to tame your ego and use your creativity to solve problems. Sometimes it won’t be easy and may include taking some bitter medicine, but if your vision is strong enough, then you will find a way to make it work.
The starting point of your planning exercise is to make a thorough and realistic assessment, take a piece of paper and cover these four sections:
This assessment is critical because you need to know what skills and experience you have so that you can plan the tangible parts of the journey. Someone that wants to become a partner in a big 4 accounting firm needs to start their journey with formal accounting qualifications.
You need to understand what your unique strengths are as your ultimate vision needs to be tied to things that give you strength. If your vision is not directly linked to your strengths, then the action plan will contain too many things that drain you of energy and will ultimately cause you to fail. Just as importantly, your strengths are too valuable to ignore.
On the flip side, if you don’t understand what your major weaknesses are then how you will mitigate their effect? Understanding them will also give you a checkpoint to make sure that your vision isn’t based on things that are your weaknesses.
Understanding your personal brand is extremely important. If there are problems with your reputation, for example, if people perceive you have a low work ethic, are unreliable or worse, then your plan may need to include actions and values to repair these issues. Reputations and brands are quirky things. They are slow to develop and quick to damage which makes them quite precious. Having said that, no brand is incapable of repair. Even reputations that have sustained catastrophic damage can be patched and morphed into something new.
You’ll need to understand your major values so that they are in-line with your vision. If the majority of your work activities are not consistent with your values, then you’ll spend most of your time trying to change yourself. Imagine being in a relationship with someone who was constantly trying to change you…
You should now have a brief outline of where you are today, and how your professional career is tracking. Take these four assessments and form some goals that you will act on your path for a better tomorrow. Goals are essential for your success, so schedule in a review where these goals are in the near future.
And don’t forget to read our article on ‘How To Plan Your Professional Comeback’ featured GQ Australia here.
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