Crystal BallDo you wish you had a crystal ball for career- or life-planning? Or, do you hardly think beyond the next six months? Wherever you are, the likelihood is that you find thinking about career planning as a question of the next couple job titles or a series of projects and initiatives.

The reason a crystal ball would be nice is that this thinking is very hard and infused with lots of uncertainty.

Chances are the you’ve recently had your performance review or completed your business review for 2012. You might even have draft goals and plans for 2013. Now is the time to look into the future and “pull-back” insights and ideas into your development and career planning.

It’s hard work because we are impatient.

We don’t have time to think deeply about our regular work, let alone our future–it’s in the future, right? We want to:

  • Get the job title, industry, company and geography  questions answered.
  • Go with our “gut” or the most logical couple of alternatives rather than bring the same kind of discipline we do to a financial analysis.
  • Scope out some key priorities without the complete vision (often a problem in our business planning as well).

We’re basically impatient, even though it’s the only life we have.

It doesn’t matter where you on in your life timeline.

We often plan at the beginning of our career or at major challenges or opportunities–not when we are perfectly happy in our work-life.  Yet, it makes perfect sense to think critically or again when:

  • You are 25 and just got a great promotion.
  • You just had your first or second baby.
  • You’re sitting in a big job with more to give and fewer opportunities to do so.
  • You want to get out of the grind some day.
  • You are 60 and “retirement” is not too far away.
  • You did retire and wonder how to get back into action.
  • You’re not planning on retiring and want to do what you want to do.

…or, any other types of career-life scenarios.

Start with a Career-Life Timeline, not more conversation.

I’m not saying that it isn’t helpful to talk with your boss or colleagues or significant people in your life. I am saying that you can start by organizing key milestones and segments in a way that will reveal to you (first) what you’ve achieved as the basis for future ideas.

It’s a simple task that takes some time to complete. Here’s the basic instruction:

  1. Draw a line on a big piece of paper (using pencil). Start at your birth date and end at your probable death (take a guess).
  2. Put your Personal Life on the top of the line and your Professional Life on the bottom of the line.
  3. Place critical milestones and segments along both sides of the line.
  4. Step back and reflect on achievement, where and when you developed key capabilities, great bosses and lousy ones, how your personal life has ebbed and flowed with work, etc.

timeline pic.001

You can check out a simple version of my Career-Life Timeline to the right.

There’s more to do, but just with this activity, you might find some wonderful ah-has. Clients often say to me “Oh, I have more time than I thought!” or “I can easily plan for those global roles in the next five years when my kids are older.” of “I know I want to keep working after 65, and I’m not clear–time is slipping.”

If you’ve read this far, I hope you are excited about this critical thinking.  In the next few posts, we’ll talk about the “importance equation”, your unique talent, and alternative, potential futures.

What is the opportunity for you to do this thinking now? What are the risks of not taking the time?