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Last year, I said farewell to a beloved colleague who was moving on to her dream job. During our last lunch together she asked me, “What do you want to do next?” And for the first time in my life, I had no answer.
You see, I used to have a plan. For 10 years I worked toward the goal of being a magazine editor. But by the time I graduated college, the publishing industry was struggling and I knew I wouldn’t find a viable career path there. It turns out, nothing I’ve ever planned for my career has panned out how I thought it would — and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve since stopped planning my career, and here’s why that works for me.
I’m Not Limiting Myself
I started interning when I was 16 at a local newspaper and continued working with as many publications as possible throughout college. But, the semester before graduation I went into full-on panic mode that I wouldn’t find a full-time job in the publishing industry.
As a backup, I took an internship in the marketing department of a financial company. It was a far cry from the fashion and beauty brands I had been working with, but much to my surprise, I absolutely loved it.
I would have never considered working in finance if it hadn’t been for that last-minute internship. Now, I try to be open-minded about any opportunities that come my way because they could lead to something amazing.
I’m Open to Change
In school I took as many French classes and fashion courses as I could cram into my schedule to prepare myself for my dream career as a fashion editor. By having such a rigid plan (even one I was passionate about), I wasn’t thinking about where the publishing industry was heading next and how I could broaden my skills for the changing landscape.
To a certain extent, I couldn’t have prepared. After all, social media was only just taking off for personal use when I was in school; brands hadn’t started leveraging it as an advertising tool and I didn’t know it would one day be a huge part of my job. But now I’m open to learning new things, like data analytics (the opposite of what I thought a creative career would involve), and using them to evolve with my industry.
I’m More Realistic
When you’re making a plan for the next five or 10 years, it’s easy to let fantasy come into play. But no matter how unrealistic a milestone it was, if I didn’t meet the timeline I’d crafted in my head, I’d be disappointed. Not so much anymore. Of course, there are still things I want to happen, but I base them off reality, not fantasy.
Instead of hoping some dream career opportunity will arise and I’ll get swept of my feet by a recruiter offering a cool title and big salary, I focus on what I can control. What opportunities can I work toward that are right in front of me? Living in the here and now means I can take action right away; I’m not waiting for something that may or may not happen in the future.
It’s also really exciting not trying to predict what’s going to happen next. I don’t have a five-year plan and I think that’s a really good thing. I’ve learned that being flexible is the best way for me to learn new skills, meet talented people and have a fulfilling career. I can’t wait to be surprised by where life takes me next.