Needing a “five-year plan” might be the most common misconception in career planning. Here’s why it’s such a mistake, and here’s what you should do instead. Read on…
Today’s question comes from Nathan U., who asks, “I told my uncle that I’m getting into copywriting and he asked me what my five-year plan is. I don’t even have one! Am I in trouble?”
Asking about someone’s five-year plan is just like asking a five-year-old what they want to be when they grow up—and, nowadays, the answer is likely to be just as inaccurate.
People used to have five-year plans when jobs and lifestyles were more predictable. You get a job, you stay at that job, you get married, you have kids, you retire. But it’s not that simple anymore; people change jobs and even careers every few years.
Too many unforeseen things can happen in the course of five years. And how can you plan your direction? What you want and need in five years might be totally different from what you think you will.
Not having a five-year plan isn’t worrisome; it’s normal.
However, there is a plan you should be operating on. It doesn’t require you to guess at the future, and it gives you a lot of flexibility.
Ready? Here it is: Roughly every three years you should either be moving up in an organization or moving out.
Three years is generally enough time to master the skills at a level of work. So that means that every three years you should be moving into a more challenging level. That may mean a literal promotion, or it may mean taking on more responsibilities or moving laterally into a new type of position.
But every three years, you need to evaluate where you are to make sure you’re still learning new things and still being challenged. If not, both your mind and your career will stall and stagnate.
What if there’s no place in your company to go or no jobs in it that you want? We come to Part 2 of your three-year plan: Get out. If you’ve fully investigated all possible options at your current place of employment, it’s time brush off your resume, polish up your portfolio and start looking for your next place.
You want to start this process like clockwork at that three-year mark, whether you think you need to move or not. Burnout tends to sneak up on people, and when you’re burned out, you don’t have the energy or the desire to put together your portfolio and look for work. Think of this as your failsafe plan.
Even at a job or company you love, you need to be challenged to feel fulfilled. Three years tends to be right around when that tapers off. After three years? Upward or outward.
So, do you need a plan for your next five years? No, you need to plan to do something in three.
Your turn! Have you found that three years is the time when you start to get the itch to grow out of or leave a job? Let us know in the comments below!