“So, what’s next?”
These words ring all too familiar. Whether you just completed the internship of a lifetime or said goodbye to a leadership role in a beloved organization, you’ve probably been asked this question. The power that these words hold, although most likely stemming from the good intentions and genuine inquiry of a beloved family member, an acquired acquaintance, or internally to oneself, can create meaningful conversations. However, more commonly, they can send one’s mind (and stomach) into a spiral, stimulating the kind of unrest that is hard to shake off.
This kind of question is meaningful for those of us with a five-year plan—excited to share the carefully plotted blueprints of the coming years. But what about those of us without a clue? With too many interests how can we narrow the possibilities down?
I was stumped too, but after reading “Lean In” by Cheryl Sandberg and thinking about her message about career planning, I started making some conclusions about how we can stop stressing and start planning for our careers in the most practical way possible. Here are four strategies to work toward answering that once before glaring question.
“So, what’s next?”
Instead of focusing on a five-year plan, Sandberg says to focus 1) on an 18-month plan and 2) have a long-term goal. These two strategies put together make the long haul seem much more manageable and allow goals to be more focused. Having a sense of urgency with these goals will help one to achieve more and learn more in the process.
Just as one is told to do on their resume, having a way to measure one’s results tangibly will give them more clarity as to whether or not they’ve completed their mission.
Having measurable goals means that those who are planners will have the ability to check something off of their to-do lists. Instead of having the weight of a five-year plan, where one’s passion’s can waver and change, an 18-month plan allows anyone and everyone to grow, assess and continue, especially as those who are just heading out into the workforce start to find their place in the world.
It’s called the “game of life,” but please—the world isn’t a giant game of Super Mario Bros. Please refrain from thinking that your long-term goal has to be all about getting to the top. If this is someone’s idea of success, then great, but at the same time, no one should feel bad if someone’s idea of success differs from his or her own.
The plans we are in the process of making can (and should) focus on more than just snagging a higher role in one’s company or scoring one’s dream job. Although focusing on these goals is admirable and still a good thing, your 18-month plan can focus on broadening your skill set, starting a blog, taking on a new project, or even negotiating a wage, instead of focusing on obtaining a certain role.
Knowing that your plans are allowed to change will change your life. Please note that once you create your 18-month plan, your plans can change as your passions and interests continue to expand and intensify.
In her book, Sandberg talked about the misconception that careers depend on climbing the ladder of success. First of all, I want to know 1) where this ladder is and 2) how I get there. More important than this theoretical ladder, however, is the reality that our careers are more like jungle gyms. While the ladder analogy leaves room for one path and the potential for a lot of scraped knees upon falling (aka, a lot of failure), a jungle gym allows for more options. At the jungle gym, there will be a multitude of careers choices. You may start to climb a ladder that leads to a slide, realize you don’t like it and choose the monkey bars instead. Alternately, you may choose to continue sliding down the slide for hours upon end, savoring every second, or even be content to sit on the bench for a while, only getting back on your feet to return to the beloved swing set or something entirely new. There’s never a set itinerary for careers.
It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options I have when thinking about all of the different paths I could stroll down in my future. Sometimes it can feel like my interests and passions lead me to multiple paths at a time. Sometimes it can feel like they lead nowhere at all. Whatever stage of my career I’m in, I know that I can plan more effectively for my future if I set measurable goals that are timely and specific and always let my passions guide my path.
Jessica Rutkowski is a junior studying strategic communication at Ohio University where she serves as the Vice President of Social Affairs for Scripps PRSSA. She recently finished an internship with the National Student Leadership Conferences in New York.