It's one month into the year, and all the planning from a mere 30 days ago has been forgotten. We set resolutions, defined goals, tried to figure out where our lives were going.
It's a nice enough exercise to motivate yourself during those first dreary days back in the office. I remember starting my career as an intern in the city, working with my mentor to figure out my steps up the ladder and how quickly I could each hit each title.
It wasn't the worst plan. I graduated, joined an investment bank's graduate scheme and spent a summer training. Four months later, I was at the coffee machine, catching up with a fellow grad in the London office and he asked what team I was moving to. I'm not moving, I replied, confused, and asked him why he thought I was. He told me he'd seen upcoming floorplans at his team meeting and my name had been removed from my desk. He'd queried it, and his manager told him that I was moving teams.
No one had told me. But he was right and soon after I was moved into another team, where I stayed a mighty seven months, before an internal reorganisation meant my team disappeared and I moved yet again.
My career remained as fluid over the next five years. This is what I learned:
1) We live in a dynamic world. Plans are great to stimulate the imagination, to remind you of what's possible, but don't kid yourself into thinking you'll actually bring it to life. You have to adapt and do what's best in the circumstances. Your plan will be out of date the moment you finish it. Create it and then let it go.
2) Take control and know what you want. Don't let other people dictate your future. Also don't let titles and meaningless hierarchy and politics sway you. It's currently quite popular to be ambitious, particularly for women, but just think of how many managers you know that are actually quite bad at managing people. Is it something you really want, or something that people expect you to want? Think about what experiences and skills you're looking to gain. Don't worry about following the letter of the plan, but concentrate on the spirit. What's the point of every step you've listed?
3) Try things out whenever you get the chance. It's a shame that people can't go and spend a couple years doing internships in a number of different, unrelated, industries, because you have no idea if you'll like something until you actually do it. You might have this great idea that you want to be a doctor/coder/mechanic/artist but the reality never matches the fantasy. Go and try out a bunch of different things. Gain life experience. I discovered at the ripe old age of 28 that I loved teaching in a classroom. No one was more surprised than me.
4) Or don't bother with a plan at all. If you're curious and like to be useful, things will sort themselves out. Opportunities will cross your path, and if you say yes, and keep moving to stay challenged, then things will work out just fine. You'll apply for one job because it's the right fit, instead of applying for ten because it's time for a pay rise.
It really doesn't matter if you don't know what the next step looks like. Be spontaneous and allow yourself the freedom to make the right choice in the moment instead of holding yourself to a decision you're supposed to make. Enjoy the journey.