Fail or Succeed, You Better Have a Plan

To quote George Harrison in his song, Any Road: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

As we approach the end of the year, now is a great time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re headed. In my work with the leaders of corporate America, I’m continually surprised by the number of people who don’t have a written plan for what their future looks like (or what they want it to look like). 

The new working reality in 2020 is that people will have many jobs and many careers over the course of their lifetimes. Gone are the days of a clearly defined career ladder where you steadily progress up the rungs from one role to another within the same company, keeping your eye on the ultimate prize of a seat in the C-suite. For past generations, the future was well-defined, and workers zealously pursued the next promotion without really knowing where they ultimately wanted to go.

How many of you are actually doing work that brings you absolute joy? I’m talking about the kind of work that gets you excited to wake up in the morning and get to it. My guess is, sadly, too few. I’ve been in the workforce for more than 30 years, and it took me a long time to figure this out: You aren’t going anywhere without a plan.

In fact, the key to dealing with failure and achieving success is to have a plan.

When I graduated from college with a degree in marketing, I took a job in sales because, quite frankly, I needed a paycheck. As it turns out, I was pretty good at it, and I spent the next 15 years progressing steadily up the ladder to sales management. In my late 30s, however, the work became much harder, the quotas more challenging and the travel more exhausting. And I was failing miserably. I was working for a major company, a place where others aspire to be, and yet I could hardly drag myself out of bed in the morning to go to work. Additionally, I knew in my heart that I would never attain the coveted vice president of sales job that I had wanted for so long.

Around this time, I had the opportunity to attend a weeklong program on principle-centered leadership. We journaled about the things in our lives that brought us joy, the things we didn’t like doing and we created jobs for ourselves by identifying what we would do every day even if we weren’t paid a dime. I discovered something interesting about myself: I never wanted to go into sales! It was just a job to me, and, like all of us, I needed the money to live. I learned there was only one thing in my career that brought me joy: sales training. This was a small aspect of my job, but it was the one thing I consistently looked forward to doing.

This experience led me to write a plan, which would take nearly 10 years to unfold. I went back to college at the age of 40 to get a master’s degree in adult education. I accepted a series of lateral roles to position myself for greater responsibility. And I eventually found a niche and literally designed my ideal job at my company.

Today, I continue this work on my own with my consulting practice, YWomen. My day job brings me enormous joy, and I get to work with people who support and encourage me. I’m thankful I am positioned to bring my clients meaningful solutions to the complex challenges they face.

I’ve been given a gift, and it emerged out of my failure. My success is defined by me, on my terms. However, I believe I would not be successful today if I didn’t have a written plan of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to be doing.

Hopefully, you’ll take some time over the holidays to decompress and think about your life plan. As you’re enjoying your local holiday traditions, write down the answers to these three questions.

  1. What am I doing at work and in my life that brings me absolute joy?
  2. What type of work am I doing on a daily basis that I don’t enjoy, and how can I begin to move away from roles and activities that require me to participate in unenjoyable work?
  3. What are three steps I can take over the next year to position myself to do more of the things I enjoy and less of the things I don’t?

By writing these answers down in black and white and committing to the action steps, you begin to move toward greater success. Your failures should diminish as you move away from activities that do not bring you joy. Realize this is an iterative process and writing a plan is just the first step. The plan is not etched in stone but is just designed to provide you with direction.

Today’s workplace features many difficult challenges, but it’s also wide open for you to design and plan for the kind of career path you most desire. Failure is a part of everyone’s story, but with a plan, it can be leveraged for greater success and career satisfaction.

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Jeffery Tobias Halter is president of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership advancement. Founder of the Father of Daughter Initiative, creator of the Gender Conversation QuickStarters Newsletter and the Male Advocacy Profile, Jeffery is former director of diversity strategy for The Coca-Cola Company and is the author of two books, “WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men” and “Selling to Men, Selling to Women.”

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