The Anti-5-Year-Plan Plan: An Unscripted Approach to Career Development

Maybe it’s because of the unconventional and indirect path I’ve taken to get to where I am, but I strongly dislike the question, “So, where do you see yourself in five years?” It would be easy to answer with counter-questions. “Well, can you tell me where will the economy be in five years? What new technology will exist? How many pandemics will we have lived through?” (Don’t answer that last one — I don’t want to know) But, that would miss the point. I object to how it can make someone feel. Not having a good answer creates a sense that you’re doing something wrong and will surely fail for your lack of vision.

Fortunately, my experience has shown me that none of that is true. You can steer your career in a meaningful way without having a clear picture of your destination in mind. I have focused on three guiding principles to stay on track while still being open to new ideas. With this approach, you’ll ultimately end up exactly where you want to be — and this may or may not be where you thought you should be.

Guiding Principle 1: Surround yourself with the right people.

Every job presents learning opportunities, but exponential growth happens when you surround yourself with people who inspire and support you. Working alongside people who think differently than you and who have had different experiences will challenge your biases and open your mind to new ways of thinking. Learn from how they work, talk to them about the paths they’ve taken, and see how they measure success for themselves and others.

Guiding Principle 2: Maximize each role you have.

Beyond meeting the requirements for your job, see how many ways you can stretch it, bend it, and mold it into something more. Job crafting is an excellent way to shape your job, aligning with your values, strengths, and passions. This approach allows you to get the total value out of each opportunity. Stay open and curious, and you may push into a new territory that unlocks new potential.

Guiding Principle 3: Focus on smaller steps instead of the entire path.

Continually trying to see what’s ahead five years down the road can be overwhelming. But if you take a closer look, you’ll realize the road is made of stones. Stepping on one after the other keeps you moving forward. Your progress doesn’t always have to be perfectly linear. When you push yourself to realize the full potential of each role, each step, you might start to shift your direction. Be open to these changes, and don’t be afraid to make strategic moves. Then look up every so often to see what new opportunities have appeared on the horizon.

Guiding Principles for Career Development

Following these guiding principles has allowed me to be present and enjoy the process without fixating on the destination. When I was younger, I focused entirely on an end goal I set for myself. I followed that path for a long time until life shook me awake, and I realized I didn’t want to be on that road at all. So I hopped off that path and started following the stones that looked interesting to me. I started dismissing the “Where do you see yourself in five years” question and how it made me feel and learned to trust my gut. And now, the path I’m on is not one I would have envisioned for myself many years ago, but it’s taking me exactly where I want to be.