What? Why the planning?

Which path to choose?

Which path to choose? by Mark Smallwood

I’m going through a period of self-reflection at the moment, and it’s something I go through regularly when I finish studying or close a chapter of my life. One day I’m just plodding along as normal, and then suddenly I have extra free time and I start thinking. Thinking is good, but life thinking is HARD. I’m an opportunist type of person, so I never really planned to be a librarian – I just knew teaching wasn’t for me at the time I had to make a decision but I was keen to stay in education somehow. I didn’t plan to become a researcher – I just loved the sound of the job from the advert and it seemed to fit with the things I most enjoyed about my previous job roles. I didn’t even plan to live where I live (the area I live or our house), it just sort of fell into place at the time. And I’m happy with all of those decisions, but what do I want in the future?

I have a vague idea of the things I enjoy doing and I pretty much stay true to that (I’m getting much better at saying no to opportunities which don’t fit with my strengths or what I enjoy doing), but I have no idea where I want to be in life in 5/10 years time, or even 1 year from now. Does it matter? Maybe not, but I’ve been trying to spend some time learning more about myself and what I really want. I’ve been reading some interesting books, and working my way through some recommended tasks. Some I’ve found pretty useless, others have been insightful. One thing I did find interesting was trying to list 50 things I wanted out of life. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It really isn’t, well I didn’t find it easy anyway. I did eventually manage to come up with 50 and then had to choose from those 5 short, 5 medium, and 5 long term goals. I’ve recorded these and will be trying to work towards them, although most are not related to my career (one may involve a lemon meringue pie).

So I’ve been trying to pin down what it is that I really enjoy doing and why. What makes me get up in the morning raring to go? (Very little actually, since I’m really not a morning person). What excites me? What am I passionate about? What tasks/activities do I enjoy doing and why? I’m still pondering this, and if anyone has any tips for discovering this I would really appreciate it.

Career planning event

Whilst I was starting to mull all these things over, Future Faces Birmingham held an event on career planning. It seemed like perfect timing, so I went along and made some notes. The course was facilitated by John Ling, who has a varied background and now coaches a number of senior executives. He covered some tips on CVs and interviews but my main area of interest at the moment is planning – below are some of my notes:

  • Write your plans down – career and life plans
  • Use mentors
  • Imagine you have a ‘personal board’ – the people you need around you (to advise on finances, health, life, career etc.)
  • Keep broad portfolio of activities you enjoy outside the day job – never know when these could turn into opportunities. These should usually be free.
  • Don’t worry to much about planning – have a concept but not a defined plan (analysing too much will lead you to lose the plot!)
Where to start with planning?
  • Start with life goals (i.e. health, relationships, wealth, career) as your career is part of your life.
  • Set yourself goals (5-8 objectives in a 5 yr timescale broken into milestones) and write them down!
  • What is your next role?
  • Consider 4 key aspects of career – geography, income, sector, role. What do you need to get there?
  • Remember that it’s OK to change the plan

I found this session really useful (and reassuring!), though I did ask the question about what to do if you don’t know what it is you want. John recommended taking a strengths value psychometric test to learn what your natural strengths are. I found the VIA-IS (VIA Inventory of Strengths) test and took the online version of the test. My top five strengths from this were:

  1. Humility
  2. Gratitude
  3. Prudence
  4. Perserverance
  5. Judgment

Hmm. I’m not really sure what that tells me but I do tend to agree having read the descriptions of what they mean by those terms.

What next?

Well, that’s the big question isn’t it? I’m not planning to change much for the moment to be honest, though I will continue to reflect on things and hope it will help me make decisions in future. One thing I’d really like to sort is a better work-life balance. Many of the things I love doing (crafts, walks, nature, spending time with friends and family) I don’t seem to spend a lot of time on as I throw myself into work and professional activities. This isn’t necessarily healthy and I am very aware that time spent away from professional activities is of great benefit to me as a person (i.e. for my general wellbeing) and also to help me recharge. I suffer burnout sometimes and only then do I start to remember how valuable it is to spend time away from a computer screen. It’s a shame it gets to that point though, so I’d like to start being more sensible about the amount of things I take on. I’ll certainly be thinking very carefully about decisions regarding my free time, and hope to gain a more healthy work-life balance.

And on that note, I’m getting away from the computer screen now…

  • Janet

    Thanks for the link to the VIA Inventory of Strengths! It is the first such questionnaire that I have found accurate and helpful! The explanations given for my answers were spot on!

  • Claire Lucas

    Really interesting post Jo, a lot of what you said chimed with me, but I have to say I was surprised as, although we’ve never met, I’d always imagined that you DID have a career plan!
    I’m towards the opposite end of my career compared with you, and I am definitely regretting not planning more as I went along. I’ve ended up in a very narrow field (scientific literature and patents searching) for which there just aren’t as many job opportunities as there were 20 years ago. If I could step back in time I would study for an LIS qualification, which would give me much broader options now. I could do one now, but it would have to be a distance learning course and I would be the wrong side of 55 by the time I’d completed it.
    Like you, I find thinking about life/career very hard. Thanks for the VIA-IS link, I’ll certainly give that a go.
    I wish you all the best in your musings and look forward to reading future posts on the subject.

    • Thanks for the comment, Claire. It’s interesting that you should say you thought I had a clear plan – many people seem to presume I do but I really don’t. I almost said I wish I did, but having reflected on it I’m not so sure. I quite like being more open to grabbing opportunities that I hadn’t previously considered. I do try to keep developing my skills and building my network and this definitely helps open up opportunities that interest me so it might not be a defined plan but it is a sort of strategy to enable me to take advantage of future opportunities.

      I don’t think you’re ever too late to retrain or develop skills/knowledge/qualifications in an area you are interested in, though respect your decision if you think that’s best for you.

  • Hi, Thanks for this Jo. Despite my scepticism at this due to it’s religious and somewhat (in my opinion) wishy washy questions, this is the first analysis that I can actually see myself in: I got: Perseverance Appreciation of beauty/excellence Forgiveness Honesty Love of learning. I don’t reflect enough in my life about the paths I choose as I tend to just doggedly persevere (ha) so really want to do this more. I have tried to help others with their goals – I’ve actually quite liked this so love the idea of being a mentor one day – but really need to start thinking about mine again. The thing is I set my goals, make very sensible decisions and still something’s not quite right. If you get chance to talk at LibCamp I’d love to know how you are getting on with this.

    • Glad you found it useful, Sarah. I confess I’m a bit of a psychometric test lover, so I do many of these and worry I read too much into the results. Do find them useful for self-reflection though.

      Definitely be good to catch up at Library Camp and discuss goal setting and other related things 🙂