So here’s something that might surprise you; long-term career planning and mapping is NOT a mandatory requirement for career happiness and success. Well, that statement certainly flies in the face of the advice some very well-meaning professionals will give. And quite frankly, even the ones that acknowledge it isn’t absolutely mandatory will be wrong if they believe that only a small percentage of people reach career happiness without long-term planning.
Here’s why I believe the majority of people need not stress about the lack of some grand long-term plan.
First of all, when you’re in your teens and making choices about what courses to take in high school in order to eventually end up in college, university or a trade, you’re only basing these choices on the very limited exposure you’ve had in life to the world around you. You’re in your early teens and the people you’ve interacted with, the jobs you’ve acquired knowledge of are extremely confined to the ones you’re going to learn of in the next decade of your life. In other words, excepting some of course, it’s highly likely that with all the jobs that exist in the world – and will emerge in your future that don’t even exist in your teen years – the odds that what you want to do at 15 and 16 years of age will be what you’ll want to do until you’re 65 is very low.
In fact many high school graduates will take a year off before deciding what to do or what school to attend, simply to give themselves a year to make a better choice career-wise. Some will even do what they call a victory lap; another year of high school classes after graduating.
Further evidence are the people in first year university classes who take 5 very different subjects, just praying and hoping the light bulb goes on in that first year, and something grabs their interest. Maybe the first year classes include World Religions, Introduction to Philosophy, British Literature, Introduction to Sociology, and Introduction to Psychology. Oh by the way, these 5 were my own in year one. As it turns out, Sociology caught fire and so I loaded up with future courses to eventually graduate with a degree in Sociology.
In transitioning from a teen into a young adult, it is normal to expand your knowledge of various jobs and careers. As you start interacting independently with the world, responsible more often for things yourself, it only stands to reason that every so often some job catches your interest. Learning about the world around you and the people who live in it, many find themselves attracted to what others do. It follows naturally then that every so often you pause and think, “I could do that!”
Now of course we don’t act on every whim we get, but if we’re unsatisfied, curious, searching for something better or different, open to possibilities etc., we live consciously observing and then assessing pros and cons of various occupations. Sometimes we’ll also have conversations with folks in these jobs, asking them what they do, what skills and education it takes, how long they took to get started, the highs and lows, the good and the bad aspects of the work. Then we look and assess ourselves, what we both have and need if we wanted to head down some career path branching out from the path we’re on now.
This is normal by the way. To stay completely rigid, never varying from the path we imagined and set out on at 15 years old in this light seems the more peculiar. And yet, when we do decide to change our direction, for many it seems so hard to tell our parents, family and friends that we’ve had a change in what we want to do. Yes, we fear they’ll somehow think less of us; they’ll worry and think we’re indecisive and making an ill-informed choice. However, these family and friends haven’t been privy to the thoughts we’ve had – the deep, inner thoughts and feelings we’ve been experiencing for some time. It’s precisely these thoughts and feelings by the way that have acted as our guidance system. The more they cause us unease, the more we believe there has to be something else.
Even into our late 20’s and all the way into our 30’s and 40’s, it’s not uncommon for us to re-examine what it is we want to do with the rest of our lives. And why stop there? People in their 50’s and 60’s often take stock of where they are and what they want in their remaining working days often causing a job change.
When people near the end of their working life, it’s the norm – not the exception – that they’ll have amassed a varied career with several jobs and some career changes. Rather than meaning they fluttered from job to job aimlessly, it means they were wise enough to seize opportunities for change as they came along in life; and in the end they’ve had a diversified career. They may have in fact been very happy overall, where staying in one line of work may have caused them to feel trapped and less stimulated.
Now of course, one can be happy with one long-term career or several careers over a lifetime; even people with many jobs but no single career. Yes, you can win in the world of work any number of ways.