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Creating a Long-Term Career Plan

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This post is part of a series called Planning Your Career.
How to Get Your First Job After Graduating

How many people do you know that are trapped in their jobs and unhappy venturing into work every day? 

In fact, a recent workplace Gallup Poll reported that only 30% of college-educated workers are satisfied on the job, and that leaves 70% of employees resigned, unhappy or just plain stuck. Indeed the website CareerShifters observed, “If you’re going to spend 75% of your waking life doing something, it had better be something you love.” Back in the 19th century, author Henry Thoreau in Walden noted that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Finding a career that pumps you up, inspires you, and makes you primed and energized to start every day, ready to accomplish things and feel good about yourself, help others and challenge your mental and physical self, is doable and well within your grasp.

To become inspired and nail down a satisfying career that sustains you requires forethought, planning and persistence. It won’t happen overnight, but demands a step-by-step, strategic approach that entails the following: coming to terms with what you really want to do, avoiding the influences of other people telling you what you should be doing, digging deep into yourself to determine what really gets your juices flowing and then devising a structured and organized plan to achieve your goals.

Many people play it safe and grab the first job offered or what amounts to easy security that fades fast, sometimes in a year or so. Too many recent graduates opt for a job based on what others expect of them, not what makes them happy, another recipe for disaster. Listening to parents can be extremely valuable in many cases, but it can also be a trap.  When mom or dad suggests a career in accounting, it isn’t right for you if calculating numbers is like undergoing root canal without anesthesia.  

In Nicholas Lore’s book, Now What?—The Young Person’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect Career, he pinpoints the attributes of the top 10% of people who are fulfilled in their career. He describes them as “passionate; see work as a vehicle for self-expression; gain considerable growth and contribution to self-esteem; derive a sense of purpose and making a difference; use talents fully; and work fits their personality.”

The question is, how do you choose a career that catapults you into the top 10% of the most fulfilled workers? How can you find a career, develop it, let it flourish and percolate, to make you happy and sustained over the long haul?  

The first step involves finding out what you really want to dowhat you’re best suited for. The job that brings out the best in you and becomes a perfect fit between your talents and the demands of the job.  

Matching the Job With What Energizes and Motivates You

Introspecting is one way to start determining the career that you really crave. And that self-examination includes knowing yourself, understanding what makes you happy, and objectively evaluating your primary strengths. All of these factors contribute to determining the career that  makes you happy and fulfilled over the long haul. Answering these questions and digging down deep inside you aren’t easy and involve coming to terms with who you are, what makes you tick, and pinpointing your key strengths.

Out of all the activities you’ve participated in at school, all of the subjects you’ve taken, and all of the hobbies and groups that you’ve been involved in after school, determine the two or three activities that will make you happy. Think about what you’re best at doing and which skills have produced the most impressive results. Start a notebook, detailing exactly what skills and tasks motivate and delight you. Here are a few examples: 

  • If you’ve dabbled in cabinet marketing and feel extreme satisfaction from making a bookcase from design until finished product, carpentry or running a cabinetry business might be right for you. 
  • If repairing cars is the most satisfying activity on earth for you, then auto repair or owning an auto-repair business may be in your plans. 
  • If helping people enables you to derive the most fulfillment, then teaching, nursing or social work may be the career of choice. 
  • If devising an app for social media transfixes you, then entrepreneurship is a likely choice.

Not everyone is clear and definitive about what makes them most fulfilled. For some people, it’s a natural and no brainer. But others are undecided. They love music, but aren’t the most talented, or crave playing sports, but will never match Tiger Woods or Derek Jeter in prowess.

One other option is to undergo testing that reveals your dominant personality characteristics. The Myers-Briggs test can be taken at many colleges or privately; it can lead to making better career choices.

Other questions that may lead you to answers and possible career choices include the following: 

  • What activities are you best at doing?
  • What career has fascinated you and that you’ve dreamed about doing?
  • What strengths or attributes provide you with the most satisfaction?
  • Describe the main benefits that you could bring to a job or industry.
  • What’s the most likely business, enterprise or activity that fit your skills?

Why the Usual Methods of Creating a Long-Term Plan Won’t Work

Ultimately choosing the right career is your final decision. Leaving it to parents or college advisors won’t work. You know what you do best, what motivates and delights you.   Career strategist Nicholas Lore said that “Uncovering your talents requires some detective work.” So, you must determine what you are best at doing? What job and career does that naturally lead you to? How can your best skills—engineering, social media, software development—translate into the job market? 

Listening to your inner voice steers you to find the career that best suits you. While listening to feedback from other people can be very useful at times, people can also be negative, judgmental, and lead you astray. When Jimmy Walker, the TV star of the series “Good Times,” was in college, he told his advisor that he wanted to pursue a career in stand-up comedy and entertainment. The advisor tried to talk him out of it, saying do you know how slim the odds are of succeeding in that career? Luckily, Walker listened to his own voice, paid no attention to the advisor, and had a long, satisfying career.

Overcoming the Obstacles

There are innumerable reasons why people choose dead-end jobs that stifle and don’t delight them. Paying the rent or mortgage and other bills exerts a powerful hold on people and often stymies doing what a person really wants. They sacrifice themselves, understandably, for their family and loved ones, and wake up at age 44 to realize they’ve spent twenty years doing a job on autopilot. If only I had made a change, taken the plunge, done what I wanted. If only.

Too many people, start in a job that doesn’t excite them and then get trapped in a cycle of negatives. These negative messages—I’m too old, I’m not good enough, I can’t take the risk, I’ll never make the change, I can’t relinquish the steady paycheck, I don’t have the right talent, the odds are stacked against me—hold them back as if they had handcuffs on.

Overcoming the negative self-talk is doable. People can reframe or rethink what they want to do, make necessary changes, and still be able to pay their bills and raise their family. First it takes replacing the negative inner voice of “I can’t do this and will never do this” with positive messages. 

Let’s see how I can extricate myself from this job that isn’t making me happy. What steps can I take to make changes, slowly and deliberately, without hurting myself or my family? And how do I create a strategic plan that will set this career change or adjustment in motion? It’s the planning that can propel making the change.

Creating the Long-Term Career Plan

Once you’ve identified the career that’s right for you, pumps you up, gets your juices flowing, and matches your skills with the job market, it’s time to create the long-range career plan. What action steps can you take that launches the pursuit of a new job? Carrying around a notebook, jotting down ideas, and formulating that plan will help organize your strategy.

The first place to start is to state your goals concisely and clearly. For example, I want to change careers to become a nurse in a hospital or medical office, or launch my own second-hand clothing store, or become a consultant and open my own practice. State those goals definitively.

Next, make a list with short-term goals and long-term goals. Short-term goals encompass a list of action steps that you can take without relinquishing your full-term job such as: taking a weekend community college course, networking on social media to meet people in the new field for lunch, reading how-to books on the new career, volunteering on weekends at a site related to the new career, attending a conference about the new endeavor.

Long-term goals entail taking concrete steps to start the new career. And those steps include taking a part-time job, obtaining financial aid to take community college or four-year college courses, connecting with executive recruiters to see if companies are open to transfers, going to the career pages of companies that have jobs in the area you’re most interested in.  

Investigating websites that describe corporate cultures also help the job transition. Websites such as Vault.com and Glassdoor.com detail each company culture and whether they’re looking for entrepreneurially-minded people, multi-taskers, do-gooders or conservative, do it by the book types.

Advancing the Plan Step-by-Step

Finding a job in the career you were born to work in won’t happen overnight. It can be a painstaking and deliberate endeavor. But once you have that goal in mind, clear and focused, you can take the necessary steps to achieve it.

You may have to determine what you’re willing to sacrifice. Could you live with earning $20,000 less a year, giving up buying the latest technological gadgets, or taking fancy summer vacations, to land a new job in a new career that excites and stimulates you?

Once you begin to take actions in your short-term and long-term goals, and start seeing results, it creates momentum. You’re excited, motivated and enthused, rather than worn-out. Your energy level rises. You’re eager to begin each day rather than fearful of just another monotonous day at the office. Instead of “been there and done that,” you’re exhilarated to start another day and begin another adventure. You’re passionate about your new career, not beaten down and exhausted at breakfast.

Sustaining the Career

Having taken these steps, acted on your goals, you finally land a job. You’re reenergized and feel renewed. But you’re only at the starting point. Now you have to get in gear, work hard, excel, and use all your repertoire of skills to build a new career. Sustaining a career is a lifelong pursuit. But once you've nabbed that job that excites you, you’ve turned desperation into enthusiasm.  

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