Have You Made the Best Career Plan to Ensure a More Certain Future?

Your career plan for the upcoming year is going to be crucial. Start by building a solid foundation for that plan. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t lock into any one approach. Be analytical, flexible, and pro-active. Be mindful, focus on your values, and dare to dream.

In times of change and crisis, people often adopt one of three response patterns. This applies for our career plan, but it is also reflected in the way businesses act when they’re under stress.

Three Ways to Respond to Crisis

Some people or businesses just continue on doing pretty much exactly what they’re doing, making small tweaks or adjustments to keep things going as steadily as possible. But they don’t want to rock the boat on the entirely reasonable assumption that their steadiness will help them prevail. Let’s call this the Group 1 approach.

The second approach (Group 2) is to retreat, circle the wagons, and hibernate. In economic downturns, many companies resort to this behavior, laying off staff, slashing budgets, and canceling forward-looking initiatives. Individuals also go into similar lockdowns and withdraw from their work and their colleagues. This approach is predicated on the notion that survival is only possible by eliminating anything and everything that is not absolutely essential. Once the crisis passes, and it becomes safe to operate again, things can resume and rebuild to adapt to the new normal.

A third way (Group 3) is to invest in the crisis. This approach analyzes the situation and shifts all (or most) existing resources to meet the crisis head-on. The strategy believes that reducing the size and the profile of the business prevents its ability to overcome the obstacles in its way, to respond to the crisis, and to use the existing talent and operational infrastructure to power through and out of the crisis. Also, rather than adopt a steady-state, minimal response approach, this approach understands that the crisis will have long term and permanent impact on the business. Incremental adjustments won’t be able to handle the significant and disruptive forces at play.

Case Study: Restaurants in the Pandemic

In the current pandemic, we’ve seen these three responses evidenced in many businesses. Let’s take restaurants. Some restaurants (Group 1) tried to stay open but believed that the crisis would pass and things would get back to normal. They made minimal adjustments, making their existing menus available for takeout. But they didn’t do much marketing to woo customers or change the way they did business.

Other restaurants closed down entirely (Group 2). They did the math and realized that there was no immediate future for them with their current business model, so they decided to cut their losses.

The Group 3 restaurants pivoted aggressively to a new model. They redoubled their marketing efforts to existing and to new customers. They modified their menus to make them more take-out friendly. They used multiple delivery services to maximize their market coverage. They ran promotions to keep their current customers engaged. And they were the first to re-open safely with distanced outdoor tables (in re-purposed parking lots and sidewalks), PPE for waitstaff and kitchen staff, and contactless menus and payment systems to alleviate customer concerns, and demonstrate their commitment to a safe dining experience.

As a consumer, which of the three groups of restaurants are you going to trust coming through and coming out of the pandemic? I vote for Group 3. Businesses in this group demonstrated the clearest and most effective leadership. Their message: we will bend over backwards to earn your trust. We will check all the boxes to keep you safe, while also providing you with an experience we have all missed.

The Pandemic: An Ongoing Experiment in Uncertainty

Here’s what this lesson means for you and your career going into 2021.

The bottom line is that you must adopt the Group 3 approach in the way you conduct yourself in your own business, and in the way you work today – and the way you are planning for the future.

Here’s another case in point.

We are beginning to read about how companies are planning to re-open post-pandemic, and are learning how they are planning to configure their workforces and workplaces.

In this recent memo from Viacom/CBS management, their CEO states that 70% of their 20k+ workforce will be working in a hybrid model. This will be a combination of remote and in-office work. The remaining 30% will be split between those who must work full-time in the office (operations, infrastructure, e.g.), and those who will or can work totally remotely.

One of the stated intentions is to reduce their expenditure on physical office space while maintaining a flexible work culture. They will conduct meetings and other activities at the office when needed, but most everyone will also be expected to do a significant amount of work remotely and/or at home.

This is a looming disaster for commercial real estate, don’t you think? Every large company must be having the same conversation and making the same calculation.

Are You Prepared For This?

And this is just one of the follow-on effects of the restructuring and reimagining that companies will be doing over the next year. Long-standing business paradigms are going to be falling like dominoes.

If companies are taking the Group 3 approach and rethinking their fundamentals in the face of this crisis, how are you stepping up?

For example, have you been taking advantage of the past ten months to learn new technology skills? Have you been working with your colleagues on developing new workflows and best practices to get your work done in a remote-based way?

Are you reading and researching more about what’s going on in your sector? Are you looking to stay ahead of the curve in order to take advantage of opportunities others may not be seeing?

If you’ve been laid off and have been looking for work, have you re-oriented your work/career profile to put your remote working and tech abilities front and center? Are you the kind of person employers in your field will feel comfortable and enthusiastic about hiring for the new normal?

Don’t make the Group 1 mistake and assume that you will be able to get by with the skill sets and mindsets that you had before the pandemic.

Don’t make the Group 2 mistake and pare your business expenses to the bone believing you’ll be able to make a fresh start when this is all over. You will likely find that a huge gap has opened up that you’re going to have a hard time bridging. The people who took a Group 3 approach are going to be way ahead of you. They will likely get the first pick of the opportunities that come around at that time.

Build Your Foundation Before You Redefine Your Work

Your career plan has to be built on a solid foundation.

Before you engage in your Group 3 initiative, make sure you have the fundamentals covered. You want to know that you have covered as many contingencies as possible. This will give you the freedom and the (relative) peace of mind to take those steps into the unknown.

Here are a few things to keep in mind and to work on in anticipation of these big sea changes that we’re going to see play out over the coming year.

What’s Your Money Runway?

Reading between the lines of the Viacom/CBS memo, I think there’s going to be another wave of layoffs and re-orgs in the future of many companies.

If you’re currently employed and have escaped previous down-sizing, be prepared for more. Bean counters are undoubtedly analyzing the impact of their staff reductions or staff re-allocations this year. Even in companies that have done well by providing virtual products or services, there will be a desire to extract even more efficiencies from their various strategies.

The first question financial advisors always ask us is: how much savings do you have to weather a layoff?

I would go one step further and make some cash flow tweaks over the next twelve months. Even and especially if you are currently working, give yourself an internal pay cut. Do this even if you’ve already suffered a pay cut at work. Play with just how far you can extend yourself into the New Year, assuming a worst-case scenario.

Transition Timeline

Again, pivoting off the corporate big picture, don’t assume that 2021 is going to bring back the old normal. Armed with your money runway scenarios, you must make a career plan to use your time more effectively and more productively.

Since I shifted 100% of my time to my coaching and training practice 2 months ago, I’ve put up a big calendar on my wall with the words “Make Every Day Count” inscribed above it. In the square for each day, I jot down what I accomplished that day that is part of my overall plan and the milestones I intend to achieve.

Capture your intentions, make your plan, and create a reasonable timeline with milestones so you can gauge your progress. Know at any given moment where you want to be and need to be in the execution of your career plan.

Emotional Readiness

These are probably the most challenging times we as a society and culture have faced in over a century. Existential questions and threats to our system of government, to our economy, to our health, and to our environment make life today more unsettling than we could have ever imagined.

And yet we have to proceed in the belief that there is a way through it all – one that includes our self preservation!

Balance and flexibility are no longer nice-to-haves. They are survival skills. Two practices that we can use to improve our resilience to the loss and disconnection we are experiencing all around us are to be grateful and to be kind.

We are all familiar with the concept of “fight or flight.”

Today, more than ever, the accumulation of small slights, hurts, requests (demands), changes, and other upsets can cause us to snap. One minute, we seem to be doing fine. The next minute, we’re in a rage.

And that rage seems justified. Where is the “me time?” When do we get to have some smooth sailing for a change?

And yet we are still here. Our outrage is not changing any of the external factors or forces. It is merely distracting us from the reality that we are thoroughly capable of getting through this.

The truth is we have a lot to be grateful for. The great majority of you reading these words live with great abundance in comparison to the level of need and disenfranchisement present on this planet.

Start and end each day with a moment of reflection (call it prayer if you are so inclined) and make a mental or even a written list of what you are grateful for in your life, including the opportunities and abundance that you experienced today.

Being kind means being kind to others, because they are also going through very much the same sorts of disruptions and upheavals that you are. But it also means being kind to yourself.

After you’ve finished listing the aspects of your life and the things that have happened to you that you’re grateful for, spend a minute or so reassuring and prizing yourself for how you’re doing.

After all, you are doing the best you can. If there’s a way to do better, set a positive intention to move in that direction. Stop judging yourself for not getting there. You’re doing the best you can (did I already say that?).

Being kind to yourself first frees you up to be kind and compassionate with others.

You’re not engaged in a race. This is not a competition. They are not really against you. They actually need you – just like you need them.

Being kind to yourself also helps you see that you are free to set reasonable boundaries so that you don’t get overwhelmed. In your daily reflection, empowered by your gratitude and your kindness, look for ways that you can exercise leadership by deciding what you can and can’t do. This applies to the work that you’re doing, as well as to the work that others are doing for or with you.

Community Support

Why do you think you have to do this alone?

We’ve lost so much spontaneity and intimacy this past year. And I don’t think we actually do a very good job of articulating or accepting this loss. We’re still trying to soldier through and hold our breath. But we’re running out of oxygen.

It’s time to reach back out (safely) and “conspire” (literally “breathe together”) with our friends and loved ones, however physically distant they may be.

Did you start a Zoom group with friends and then let the group lapse? Did you start doing Zoom lunches with friends and colleagues but also let those lapse?

Re-commit to connecting. You all know that I talk about networking endlessly, but this doesn’t have to strictly be about your career plan. This is more foundational. Make it about creating mutual support on a personal level with people you want to hang with but haven’t been able to see in person. Set up time to really listen to one another and to feel acknowledged.

Don’t succumb to the inertia of confinement. Seek out and also provide the kind of encouragement you need to remain resilient, to track your career plans, and to stay accountable to your timeline and milestones (see above).

Create a Living Vision as Part of Your Career Plan

This is one of the most powerful planning and visioning tools in my arsenal. With so much negativity and uncertainty swirling around us, now is the perfect time for you to anchor your future by creating a Living Vision statement.

A Living Vision is essentially a letter that you write to yourself from your future self.

Very often, in working with clients to make their career plan, I recommend that they pick an extended timeframe – say 3 – 5 years. From that vantage point, I ask them to write their statement in the first person, and imagine that they’re looking back on their career as it is today and charting the intervening events and milestones that have led them to that eventual success.

For our current state of affairs I recommend that you write a Living Vision statement set one year in the future. Imagine it is the end of 2021 (or early 2022, depending on when you’re reading this article). Take the position that the best-case scenario(s) that you are planning and hoping for have come to pass.

Imagine yourself in your new or updated professional role. You could be employed, or working freelance, or working with a partner or a small group of colleagues. Use your creative imagination to extrapolate the aspirations you have now, the plans you’re making, or the goals you’re setting, and place yourself one year from now with that imagination realized – or on the way to getting realized.

Have fun with it. Make it at least 50% believable. That means that your Living Vision is based in today’s reality and what could reasonably happen within the next year. But it also contains an element of measured risk and hope – things that are just outside of your concept of “realistic” but still within the realm of possibility. Maybe a number of factors would have to align for the vision to come true, but then again, you might surprise yourself.

The point of the exercise is to realize that the future is not pre-ordained and that our intentions carry weight. By holding that positive vision of the future, you are already setting the wheels in motion inside yourself to make it happen.

Don’t hold back on your vision. Putting mental and emotional energy behind it gives it form and weight. Creating your vision may open your mind to possibilities and opportunities in the coming months that you would not have seen had you not created your Living Vision.

Now, you’re aware of where you could be, and where you want to go. So your unconscious mind will be looking for ways to make that happen. And your nuts-and-bolts career plan could get an upgrade as a result.

The Realm of the Possible

Ironically, the best plan for the future is to be fully present right now.

The Group 3 strategy might seem like the riskiest. After all, it’s the one where you’re “hanging ten” on the edge of your figurative surfboard. But it is actually the most secure because it puts you smartly in motion and will always put you ahead of the competition.

Confront your money and your time parameters so you never feel dread over what you’re doing right now. If you’re going to feel dread, at least you’ll be heading towards that cliff with your eyes wide open. Who knows, you may find a parachute, a hang glider, or a rocket ship before you get to the edge.

Be grateful and kind to yourself and to others. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Rationally speaking, you have no other attitudinal choice that makes sense. Your only control over what you can’t control is your attitude about it. So choose to feel better about yourself and your situation.

Take one step at a time.

Cherish your relationships.

Imagine the future you want. Be just realistic enough to feel comfortable about your goals. But include the aspirational dreams that you’ll have to stretch for.

Good luck with your career plan, and leave your questions and comments below so we can continue the conversation.

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John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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