Friday, 27 September 2013

To plan or not to plan? That is the question

Should I have a career plan? A question we think we should be asking ourselves, but what will a plan do for you? And if you want a plan, how do you go about getting one?

A friend posed the question the other day, 'does anyone have a five year plan?'

A quick poll in the pub of our school friends - thoughtful, successful and intelligent folk - suggested that no, not everyone has a five year plan, in fact not many of us have any sort of plan at all.

I think there are benefits to having a plan, because if you have a vision of what you'd like to aim for its easier to work out how to get there.

However, I think it's easy to give yourself a hard time for not having a plan. We might assume that its only the people who are single minded about their long term goals who will be successful, and that's definitely not helpful.

So my answer to 'does everyone have a plan?' is 'do you want a plan?' and 'what would be different if you had a plan?'

If you decide you'd like a plan, but you don't know where to start, maybe begin with creating your vision of the future. Ask yourself questions like 'where will I be living', 'In what sort of environment will I be working?', 'who else will be there?', 'What skills will I be using?', 'What am I truly passionate about?'. You could keep a vision notebook where you jot down pieces of your vision. Many of my clients enjoy creating a vision board of what they want their life to look like using pictures from magazines that inspire them.

Your plan will fall out of this vision. Ask yourself 'what do I already have that will help me create this vision?' This could be experience, contacts or skills.

And if you don't want a plan, don't force yourself to have one! Sometimes not having a plan is liberating, and not rigidly sticking to a plan you do have means you can be truly open to opportunity.

I was reminded about this on a recent canoeing trip: I was quite keen on knowing where we would start and where we would finish and how we'd get back, and one of my friends was keen on just having an amazing adventure and seeing how far we could paddle. Once we got out on the water I started to shift into the "no plan" camp, just enjoying the scenery, not worried about how far we'd gone or when we'd reach the next landing.

Sometimes I think we can be so fixed on the end goal we forget to enjoy the journey. And there's so much to see on the journey!

So there's pros and cons to planning. Certainly spending some time creating a vision of the future and working out how you'll get there is useful. But it's not for everyone, or every situation. Sometimes it's nice just to let the scenery of the river glide by, and see where you end up.

The above photo was taken at the start of our canoeing trip on the river Wye in Herefordshire, with thanks to Matt, Luke, Barny, Chris and Evan for an amazing weekend. Thanks also to Neil, Greg and Bryony for being the inquisitive school friends in question.

If you'd like to find out more about how working with a coach could help you be the person you want to be, and achieve what you want to achieve, email me at  and if I'm not the coach for you, I have a network of talented associates I can put you in touch with.

Jennifer McCanna, Professional Leadership Coach
Follow me on twitter @jenthecoach


  1. Jen,

    Clearly you’re talking about poker:

    We’re at the table (though not by accident), but counting cards ain’t happenin’ with a multi-deck – so just let them fall. My aim would be to stay flexible, and positioned to capitalize (planning as preparation rather than programming?).

    Any self-respecting player needs an exit plan – to recognise when it’s time to walk (with enough in reserve for a cab) - but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

    The ultimate aim is to have fun – not load up on ‘winnings’ (especially at the expense of someone else), so I’d try not to get distracted by the game. The focus should always be friends, whisky & the craic… speaking of which, I’m sorry to have missed your evening in the pub.

    Enjoying your blog. Keep it up.

  2. I love the poker analogy, applying flexibility - being open to something new or unexpected, and balance - not being focused on one outcome, I reckon can help us out in many situations.

    We always miss you too, see you for the craic anon.....

    Jen x