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Career planning is now both boring and impossible

For someone whose own career is often a meandering mess, I’ve written about career arcs/development a bunch of times, including here, here, here, and here.

Well, the No. 1 post of 2017 on Stanford’s B-School web site is this recap of Sheryl Sandberg appearing on campus. Sandberg is a legit big name in numerous circles, including “tech” and “being female.” She has some very solid stuff to say on multiple topics. To wit, she says this while speaking to the future hedge fund managers of the world:

“If you try to plan out your career, it’s going to be boring. You’re going to miss all the good stuff, because all the good stuff hasn’t been invented yet,” says Sandberg. “You want to have a really long-run dream and you want to have a short-run plan. And that short-run plan, it’s not about what you accomplish, especially in the early days. It’s about what you help other people accomplish and about what you learn. You invest in yourself. You invest in the success of your teams.”

YUS. Nailed it.

Career planning will be boring

You will miss the good stuff — both because it’s not invented and because trying to “map out” your career is preposterous. This is a “VUCA” age. Companies pivot. Business models change. “Strategic reductions” (read: you got fired) happen. Shit falls apart. Uncertainty is the new black.

You can’t be the type of person who says “In three years I shall have this title,” because you never know — and because it’s a boring, antiquated approach for a volatile, disruptive, tech-stack-is-owning-us age.

Career planning will also be impossible

This would be because no one knows what tech is going to do next, but I bet it has something to do with automation. That’s going to cost jobs. It’s going to redefine certain professions. There is no doubt. Anyone not admitting that right now = head buried in the sand hoping it doesn’t impact them.

If you conceive a child tonight (“challenge accepted”), no one in the world right now could say what options will exist for that child in 22 years, when he’d theoretically be leaving college. (23 years I guess.) No one knows. If you conceived a child in 1960, would you know what was going to happen in 1983? No. But would you be closer than our guess? Yes. That’s all because of the tech stack and how fast it’s moving.

So you shouldn’t career plan?

At a high level, yes. Plan. Think about your skill sets, think about the ones you should develop, and think about industries and occupations that seem interesting. All good.

But a road map? A detailed plan? That’s both boring and impossible in the modern age.

While we’re on this topic, anyone calling themselves “a career coach” these days is kind of full of shit … I suppose it’s cool if you’re teaching clients basic communication skills (many people can use that), but a career coach? Seems like the coach probably has less idea what’s happening up ahead than you do. Sheesh. PASS.

The other reason you probably shouldn’t career plan is because the hiring process is damn near broken and the much-balleyhooed “war for talent” became, sadly, “the war on talent.” So even with your perfect career plan laid out in the notebook, good luck out there. There’s a lot of low-context slopfests passing as “candidate engagement.”

Ted Bauer

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