Changing the Course in Your Career Plans

By Stacey King, Director of Practice

Our ability to map out and put direction to our lives is valued and rewarded in many cultures. Not having a plan might seem messy or unthoughtful to some, as changing one’s plan might signal a lack of purpose or commitment, and even feel like failure. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned and sometimes plans have to change as circumstances change.

So, what does this have to do with your summer practicum…your academic plans…your career plans?

In this time of great uncertainty, we’re asking you to be nimble, flexible, vulnerable, and open to change. And stop focusing negatively on the idea that you are veering off course from your original plan – Plan A. Imagine you are the captain of a small boat. As currents shift and threaten to push you off course, it is more important than ever to keep a light hand on the tiller of your boat as you steer a path towards shore. It will feel reflexive to tighten your grip and steer hard, forcing your boat in the singular direction of the path you had initially planned to take. But now is a good time to question your initial assumptions about that direction and pathway to see what you can learn. Perhaps loosening your grip, focusing less on maintaining your initial course, deepening your mastery of the currents below the surface, and working with the flow of the water rather than against it, will be the most effective path to shore.

In order to let go of Plan A, you may need to ask yourself some questions:

· Is Plan A the only path to your end goal or are there others you might consider, even if they are less direct?

· Will modifying your plan indicate a compromise or be viewed unfavorably by future employers? Or could the modification be seen as building and developing skills or pursuing new experiences to make you a more well-rounded future candidate?

· What are the benefits of Plan B or Plan C? How might they change or enhance your end goal? What networks or new opportunities might they expose you to that you may not have been able to access through Plan A alone?

Be sure to gut check any invisible assumptions that you carry with you. Are any of these assumptions getting in your way? What would it mean for you to question these assumptions and what possibilities could that open up for you? Asking yourself the question, “Are you sure?” can help you spot assumptions that are holding you back.

For example:

“Plan A is the best way for me to get the job I want.”

“Are you sure? Maybe there are other paths. What might they look like? What steps would I need to take to discover them? Who do I know that can help me brainstorm or discover? What should my next step be”

When should you ask yourself this question?

· When you find yourself frustrated that your plans don’t seem to be working out.

· When you find yourself imagining all the reasons why an employer or host organization isn’t getting back to you (e.g., they aren’t interested in me; they are disorganized; they found someone else).

· When you feel in the dark about the process and disappointed that it’s not meeting your expectations.

Beyond asking “Are you sure,” there may be other questions you can ask yourself or someone else to help you get more information and to interrupt the negative cycle of speculation. And while more information might help, please know that navigating uncertainty and becoming comfortable with ambiguity are important skills to have in any career, especially as you move into positions of leadership. Having that light touch on the tiller means being nimble, flexible, vulnerable, and open to learning and connection, necessary traits for tapping into the powerful currents of people and ideas. Mastering these skills now will take you far in your career and make you a valuable asset to future teams and employers.

Stacey King
Director of Practice, Office of Education



map photo: oxana x on Unsplash