Today I’m digging into the process of planning for the future and the traps that most people fall into that leave them unhappy and confused.
If you’re a perfectionist or someone that likes a good plan, you won’t want to miss this episode. I’m going to share with you how you can achieve bigger goals than you might think, without knowing all the answers right now. You’ll also get a glimpse into the process I use to plan my career future.
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:
- The mistake most people make when planning for their future
- How to answer “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”
- An exercise you can do that will help you stop trying to control the future and make the best decision for you right now
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Welcome to Your Worthy Career, a podcast with me, Melissa Lawrence. I’m a career and life coach with all the corporate credit and talent development and organizational psychology. I help women like you get extraordinary results by being more you, not less. I won’t just help you have a career experience worthy of you, but I will help you build your self worth to shift what you think is possible and take the action that will create the career you’ve always wanted. Whether it’s more meaningful work you’re passionate about, making more money, getting to your next level, or being more effective as a leader, we are shattering the glass ceiling here, the one that exists for women at work and the one we put on ourselves with our doubt and inner critic. Each week you will get practical teachings grounded in neuroscience and effective career development strategies. You’ll experience deep mindset shifts and the perfect amount of woo so you can run your career with ease rather than your career running you. You were born for more, and I’m going to help you get there with maybe a few dance parties along the way. Your up level begins now.
Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. Today’s topic is something that applies to every part of your life, whether it’s creating a five year plan for work, navigating decisions around project milestones or phase planning for clinical trials, deciding if you want to apply to a new job you might see on LinkedIn, looking at making changes in your relationships, or even making a big purchase. We are talking about planning for the future, and I have a lot of thoughts about this topic, so I really had to think about how I could constrain for the purpose of today’s episode. Now, if you’ve been with me for a while, either on this podcast, as a VIP email insider, on social media, you might have heard me talk about how we can really get caught up in the what ifs and how those what ifs can keep us from taking the action that we want to take or need to take right now. A simple example is you might see a job that you’re interested in, but you start to think about, what would happen if you got that job? How you’d have to leave your team and you love your team, but your commute would be different.
That maybe it’s just too big of a role for you. Maybe you couldn’t do it. It’ll be too challenging. So you instead decide not to apply and just reject yourself ahead of time. You take yourself out of the running that you were never in, rather than see if you could get an interview and go through that process, decide along the way, and then if you get an offer, make a decision at that point. Or if your brain is super sneaky, maybe you half ass the application process to sabotage your effort, or you don’t reach out to a colleague who you could make a mutual introduction for you so you decrease your odds of getting traction with the role. So that is a really simple example of how fear of the future or trying to plan and control the future, trying to anticipate those future problems keeps you from taking action that is helpful to you right now. You might be thinking, Okay, so are you just not supposed to plan for the future? And my philosophy on this is you can 100 % make future goals but I consider future planning as written in pencil, not pen.
Okay, this is not GDP. When we create really specific outcomes or even have an idea of what our life should be like, what our relationships should be, what the best outcome for projects would be, and then we focus and commit to one specific plan to get there, we close out creativity. We’re in the same sand box, which is a concept I talked about in an earlier episode on Exploring Your Potential. We don’t leave room for new ideas for us to change as people to learn new skills. We lose sense of ourselves and our work because we’re trying to control as much as possible around us. At the time I’m recording this, last week, I was in Nashville for business. My wife, Ellen, came along for a few days. We’ve been there a couple of times before, and we wanted to explore the city. We hadn’t been there since before COVID. So she was there with me. We were sitting at brunch, and I was talking about how important it is to be flexible when planning. Because, for example, five years ago, I had no idea I’d have this business the way that it is now.
So if I only focused on being a vice president in industry or whatever my trajectory was, I would have silenced the part of me that wanted this business and built the courage to create it. As part of my business planning, I do a three year plan. It’s not a five year plan, it’s a three year plan. And my three year plan includes a combination of goals I want to achieve, the number of people I want to help or serve, what my programs would look like, how I need to grow to achieve those goals, what will need to change, or what I will need to let go of to get to the place that is going to be the person and to have the framework or the structure to have those things. Those are the types of questions that I explore. So think of it like a career development plan, but more holistic and deep. It isn’t just the external tasks or projects, but the internal growth that needs to happen, too. That’s how I approach my three year plan. And something that is hard about it is that I have to think of problems that I might have for a reality that doesn’t exist.
I think of what I might want, skills I might need for something that may or may not happen, and I’m not even sure of the details yet. It’s like if someone asked you what you wanted three years from now, down to the detail of how you spent your days and you had to give an answer. So I don’t know isn’t an option. It just makes your brain work differently to do that type of work. It’s a mind vendor. Now, when I was working on my three year plan that I review and edit every six months, it occurred to me why it’s so hard to do. I’m trying to be perfect at it. I’m trying to anticipate everything with information I don’t have and then make a plan. But then when things don’t happen that way, I’m disappointed and think I did the plan wrong. At least that is how I used to think about it. Then I was thinking about you or my clients and how it’s similar. There is this perfectionist mindset to get things right, to guarantee results, to be seen as the best, to not make mistakes, to really do the impossible, anticipate the future correctly without error.
Now, when I put it that way, it sounds impossible, right? And that’s because it is. And we know that, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking that way. So when we get asked questions in interviews like, What is your five year plan? Or Where do you see yourself five years from now? And there is this belief that is wrong that everyone knows that answer, or the majority of people know that answer, and it’s just not true. And then it puts so much pressure on you to know the answer. But here’s the thing. That question is only to show that you are thinking about your future, that you have a growth mindset. I’ve actually asked a lot of leaders this to say, Is this true? I had this hunch a while back. I’m like, I really don’t think that this question is going to hold you back if you don’t know. It’s just how you answer the question. And I was validated in my response through the market research that I did with leaders that they’re not looking for a specific title, role. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to know exactly what you want.
You can answer that in a way that shows direction without isolating you into a specific outcome. This is what some of my clients do, too. They will want to anticipate the future and control all possible outcomes so that they feel prepared. But where this is coming from is a lack of trust in yourself, a lack of confidence to handle whatever does happen. We also make it mean something negative about us if we change our minds, like we could be wrong or fail at our own life. It’s really fascinating to think about. Now, if you hear any of my clients talk about their experience working with me, I think all of them have said it took a leap of faith that was a little uncomfortable because they had to believe in themselves and in me and the process enough to take action without knowing what was going to happen for sure, without having that crystal ball. And that is out of our comfort zone. Our brains aren’t always wired for that. Most of the time they’re not. You’re putting money on the line, you’re trying to do something you haven’t done before, you’re being open to possibility.
And it really up-levels you to show up for yourself in a bigger way. And you don’t know what will happen, and you give up that sense of control, but you trust yourself and the process to figure it out. And then it pays off. And the best part is you have that skill forever. You trust yourself. You know you can handle anything. And this applies to applying for jobs as well or taking your partner somewhere. If there’s a direction you want to take in your relationship that maybe you haven’t explored before or is different and you want to grow together and not grow apart, or some of my clients will even have fear that they will grow too much and their partners will not love them anymore. And that can be really scary. And so think about how this applies to everything. Growth can be scary, but it is supposed to be. If it were easy and we had all the steps, we would already be there and growth wouldn’t exist. If it was just as easy as, I don’t know, walking on candy land and you’re just going along the little colorful rainbow squares to your destination, no obstacles and you just know exactly where your end point is, then that’s not growth, right?
You’d be bored. So what we’re trying to do is anticipate all those chest moves ahead of time. We’re trying to create safety for ourselves through control. We’re trying to eliminate pain and discomfort, eliminate the possibility of looking bad or feeling bad. And when we live our lives trying to eliminate the bad, we sacrifice the good. Let me say that again. When we live our lives trying to eliminate the bad, we sacrifice the good. Sacrifice the good. We live in fear, we aren’t open minded, we talk ourselves out of what our intuition tells us we need or want. So let’s talk about this in a little bit more context. Now, have you been in a project meeting where someone on the team won’t move forward because they want to know future information, and so it delays the project? Or maybe you worked so hard for where you are right now in your career, you’ve put so much into your education, and so the idea of exploring something else is scary because you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. And what if it wasn’t worth it? Or what if all of the things you’ve worked for and all of that education isn’t really what you want to do in the future?
And then you’d have to be like, Did I waste that? And spoiler alert alert, that doesn’t happen. With some of my clients, it’s always relevant. So you want something different, but you don’t want to actually figure it out because you’re worried what the outcome might be. That’s a really real thing. Or a client was telling me that they were discussing what they needed in a phase 1 clinical trial to enjoy a solid phase 2, but the product management group was trying to anticipate and get answers to questions that were really better suited for phase 2, and it was delaying phase one from even getting off the ground. It’s a way of staying stuck because you’re trying to solve future problems. It’s one thing to think ahead, but don’t let the idea of what could happen stop you from taking the necessary steps right now that are going to get you closer to your goals. If you’re not sure if you’re doing this or not, think of something that you want to make a decision on, and then make a list of all of the reasons or obstacles you would wait to do it. Then ask yourself, how many of those items or what ifs or fears of what could happen are taking you out of the present moment into the future?
How many of those items would go away if you trusted yourself right now to handle anything, to get whatever it is you needed? It could be a really interesting exercise for you to try. Now, when it comes to career planning, it’s okay that you can’t see everything right now. It’s okay that the puzzle pieces aren’t coming together. You don’t have to see it exactly right now. You can try fantasizing about what you would like to have from an impact perspective, the problems you see yourself facing, the type of work environment that you want to have. Those three things can help you get some idea of a direction enough that you can start researching or be able to talk about it a little bit. But no matter what it is, when you’re thinking about planning your future, let go of the reins of control. The best thing you can do right now is to think about the right now. Are you happy? Are your projects moving forward? What can be improved? Do you have the relationships you want? What would you do differently? If you aren’t happy, make a change. Take a step, figure out what needs to change, just one step at a time.
Now, when I work with my clients, we figure out their dream role, exactly what it is, and I help them get it. They know exactly what they need right now and for the foreseeable future, but they also know that five years from now their skills and interests may be different, but they will have the skills and process now to make the pivot they want to in the future. It’s freedom, right? How freeing is that to know you’re in the right place, to know exactly what it is that you want in your role, the impact that you want to make, and to know that you could always figure that out now. If you do know what you want, go after it and trust yourself to figure it out. There is value in things going off plan. My whole career is off plan, but I’m also exactly where I want to be. If you have a project that needs to move forward, how can you help your colleagues see what decisions need to be made today and give them confidence to figure out the rest when it’s relevant? Maybe you can even guide them to this episode and have them do the exercise that I talked about earlier.
Your life is going to go places that you can’t imagine today. When we let go of the control and trust ourselves, we can have a happier and brighter future than we even know is possible. We just have to look outside the boxes and perfectionism we are taught to have and take one small step towards something bigger, toward the change you want to see. Trust yourself to do what you need to right now. Make decisions with the future in mind, but don’t let them stop you from what can be done today. All right, that is all for this week’s episode. I’ll talk to you soon.
Hey there. If you’re ready to be in a role you love, I want to invite you to join Beyond the Ceiling, where you’re going to stop feeling stuck, know your best career move, get in a role you love where you can have the impact you want to while feeling more confident, and earning more with my proven process. Head over to www.yourworthycareer.com/beyond to get all of the details.