Roll with the Punches - Why Being Flexible in Your Career is Essential
If you had to guess, what is the most asked question a little kid hears from grade school through high school? I'll bank my money on "What do you want to be when you grow up?". Now, I don't have any actual research to support this assumption, but let's use logic for a moment.
From the time we are young we are asked to decide on a path we will follow for the rest of our lives. Let's be honest, no one takes the answers of a small child serious, but the older you get the more value your answer holds. If a 5 year old says he wants to be a Singing Cowboy Doctor we think its cute and he's flexing his imagination, but if a 17 year old says the same thing with a serious face we look at his parents in disgust and plan to see him under the freeway holding up a cardboard sign after graduation.
Have you ever wondered why we condition ourselves to need a plan before we even reach a double digit age? Is there a underlying desire, perhaps something we are all innately born with, that forces us to need structure and set a destination in order to move forward?
Throughout our lives we are constantly creating plans to reach our final end point. When we want to apply to college, we create a plan, usually involving college visits, gathering letters of recommendation, researching what schools are best for our major, etc. If we want to buy a house, we set the wheels in motion to save up the down payment, find a good realtor and compare which bank makes the most sense to finance through. Like it or not, as humans we need to have a series of steps laid in front of us to succeed... some of us more than others of course. So when it comes to getting serious about the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" it's natural to start with an end goal but from experience, I can tell you flexibility is critical.
Some people know exactly what they want to do from the time they can understand lesson plans in school and they stick to it until they retire - I bow to those people. I am not one of those people. Had Had I forced myself to be what I proclaimed as a child (a pediatrician) I would probably be quite miserable seeing as how the sight of needles makes me faint. Imagine me trying to get through med school needing medical assistance after practicing an IV!
I'm all for starting with an idea, developing it into a goal and planning out the footsteps to reach it. However I'm about a third of the way through my life and I already see if I don't give my path some wiggle room I'm destined to fail. The reality is stuff happens. It's as simple as that... you lose your job, have an unplanned pregnancy, meet the love of your life who moves you across the country (or across the world), someone close to you passes, you experience a natural disaster, you win the lottery - probably not so much this last one - but you get the point. If you go through life thinking your order must be followed exactly as written you are bound to be repeatedly disappointed and constantly overwhelmed.
I make my living on career planning and human resource plan design, so I get it seems a little off to see me say "make a plan but don;t worry if you can't follow it", but hear me out. It's great to have a destination in mind and to use that endpoint as general compass for the direction of your life, just remember to allow for plenty of pit stops and detours along the way.