Would you ever get in your car and start driving without knowing where you are going? Would you get on a plane without knowing the destination? It is fun to have spontaneous moments. We could hop on a random flight to Lincoln, Nebraska like Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel in Yes Man. However ‘seat of the pants’ decisions do not propel us forward in our lives or our careers. We need a plan and we need to know where we are going.
I just returned from a semester abroad in Spain, four months to travel and explore, and I learned the importance of having a plan. I missed trains, lost credit cards, slept in airports, and prolonged my return home by 36 hours. For me, planning when I was abroad meant that I thought through the places I wanted to go, the most important sights to see, when to see them, and where to stop along the way. It also meant being prepared. I needed a map, my guidebook, money, and my camera. The days I planned, I saw more, got more out of my time, and experienced much less stress. I also had a better idea of what I was seeing and could appreciate things more.
The hardest part of planning is not knowing where you want to go. Nevertheless, we have to start somewhere, make decisions, and not let fear keep us from exploring. I joined a group of girls who went to Geneva, Switzerland because it was a cheap last-minute flight, and it was safe. We had a nice weekend. However, my trip to Marrakesh, Morocco beat Geneva by a long shot. We planned the details, adventured to a waterfall, held a monkey named Cookie, ate couscous, rode a camel, and befriended a businessman named Mohammed. We had an incredible time and I learned a lot from that trip. I learned that two girls could travel on their own in Africa without worry, that we could fend for ourselves, and with the right amount of planning, we could accomplish something completely new and exciting.
Personal Action Plan
So how does this apply to our everyday lives? Whether you are a business owner, accountant, sales representative, governor, teacher, or coach, we all need to plan. Our first step is to develop our own personal action plan and take time to examine ourselves critically and honestly. The true value in planning comes from the planning itself, the time we spend reflecting and evaluating ourselves. What are my personal values? What are the most important aspects of my life? What are my priorities? What unique talents do I possess? Once you have reflected on these things, determine the demands you have for yourself in five years. Where do you want to be in ten years? Through this process, create a “personal quality checklist” of standards for yourself that you can fall back on. These are our metrics to track our progress periodically along the way.
Professional Action Plan
After you form a personal action plan, you can apply it to your professional career. Do your personal plans and goals align with your professional goals? If not, make changes, reevaluate, and make sacrifices. Then map out how you are going to get to where you want to be and write it down! Thinking something and having it written down are two very different things. I can tell myself I am going to run today, but I can easily justify it in my head if I don’t. “I just got too busy” or “I had to get things done for tomorrow.” If you write it down, you will be more accountable and more likely to follow through. Finally, once you have aligned your personal and professional action plans and mapped out where you are going, think of possible challenges you may face. When dealing with a challenge, we often problem solve by analyzing, thinking creatively, using prior knowledge, or by relying on our feelings. If you have a plan in place and think through possible challenges and obstacles, you will be ready to make those difficult decisions and more apt to make the right decisions on your own.
It took a few hard lessons learned overseas for me to understand the value in planning. Now that I am home, I am back in the planning process again. This time I’m piecing together my professional action plan and mapping out what is left of my college career. It is a daunting task, but a necessary one. In addition, I have mentors and professors readily available to help me. There are lessons I am still learning from my time abroad. My plan may adjust as I uncover more and more of the changes I have seen in my personal growth over the past five months. So before you enter a new job, sign another contract, or hop on a plane to Lincoln, Nebraska, do not forget to utilize those around you, make changes as you go, and remember that you cannot move forward without a plan!
Guest blogger: Maggie Anderson, IWL Intern