Career Planning 101: Why You Need to Plan and and Why The Result Isn’t Important!

The first month of my class at Yale has been great!  From our first few classes where my students learned how to think like entrepreneurs, got excited about their dreams and tapped into their personal values, strengths and passions, we then drilled down to translate those lofty dreams into manageable bite-sized goals and action steps.  The past 3 weeks, we have focused on planning-career planning, project planning, and financial planning. 

Planning is a TOOL, not a GOAL:  the point of a plan is to get you motivated to take action so that your plan will actually happen.  Let’s see what happens when you engage in the process of planning and what that teaches you about moving forward in the direction that you want to go.

This past week, my friend Jim Remis, a partner in a boutique accounting firm,as well as a music lover and Chairman of the Board of the Hartford Symphony, came into our class to talk about financial planning.  He threw down the gauntlet by saying that financial plans are worthless, citing a great blog post  of the same title.

To quote Carl Richards, the author of the blog,

“Financial plans are worthless, but the process of planning is vital. “

What is the difference?

Making a plan is based on a lot of assumptions that can turn out to be wrong.  However, in sitting down to make the plan, you examine your assumptions, make your best guess based on that assumption and then—here is the crucial part—you make corrections as the reality unfolds.

Richards then goes on to say that once you make the plan, you shift your focus to shorter-terms goals of what you want to accomplish and how you are going to get there.

That’s exactly what we are doing in my class.

Let’s start with career planning.  I asked my students to create a long-term intention of what they envisioned themselves doing 5 to 10 years from now.  That projection into the future is based on the assumptions of what they are going to be doing as musician, whether that is performing, teaching, composing, creating an ensemble, commissioning new works, creating a new way to communicate with audiences or a combination of any or all of those different streams.

What I like to do with planning is to take those assumptions and turn them into inspiring goals toward which they will be excited about working, breaking them down into manageable short-term SMART goals and then further breaking these down into action steps so that the students are actively engaged in making their goals a reality. 

For example, one of my students is a trombonist who loves new music.  He envisions expanding the repertoire for trombone, as well as cultivating an atmosphere for composers and artists to collaborate with him and other trombonists, eventually resulting in a tour and a CD of new music for trombone.

In the short-term, he wants to commission 3 works and his project for this semester is to get funding for these works through a Kickstarter campaign, individual contributions through Fractured Atlas and grants. This ambitious plan assumes that he can find enough composers to generate enough music for a CD, find the right collaborators, get the funding for these commissions, the tour and the CD and then be the person to make this all happen.

So I am excited to see how this and the other student projects turn out.  As I told my students, I am more interested in what they learn and how they apply the skills that we learn in my class than in the results, although it would be great if the projects work out because they are very exciting.  But the point is to:

Have an inspiring goal and break it down;
Take weekly action steps towards that goal;
Identify your challenges;
Learn from what is not working, as well as build on what is succeeding;
Make corrections to the things that are not working; and
Examine what you enjoy doing and what you are good at and see how you can do more of that.

Next time, we will look at the financial side of creating sustainable projects.  In the meantime, PLAN, ACT and LEARN!