There are some recurring myths and legends related to career planning, convergent themes as you progress through the timeline that we laughingly call a career path and what I hope to do here is explore some of the misconceptions that become potholes and hurdles that can make us stumble or take wrong turns along the way.

Let me, first, give you my credentials so that you don’t think I am one of the ‘deaf leading the blind’; almost at the end of a long and colorful career I have had seventeen different roles over a forty-seven year period of employment in ten sectors – that’s an average of just under 3 years a role – not quite what I anticipated when I started off at the age of sixteen.

Let’s look at one of the most common misconceptions about a career; in today’s difficult economic environment a choosing the right career path for you is nigh on impossible, corporations change, markets change and the flexibility of labor means that competition is high. The first step is getting a job so that, fresh out of university, college or high school; you are able to gain some experience. Sure, you may have a germ of an idea what you would like to do, some lofty ideal about saving animals or being a doctor, surveyor attorney but the route to getting there is strewn with fallen ideals.

Don’t plan for a lifelong career, but if you are fortunate to get into a role that you want, stick with it.

Are there services out in the wide world that can help you find the right career for you? Yes, they do exist, but don’t go to a career counselor expecting them to give it to you on a plate, so to speak, they can guide you, tell you what qualifications you might require, which University to attend if that is the right route, but their role in life is to advise and guide. Let your head rule your heart – don’t try to turn your home based hobby into a career – it can happen (take Jobs, Wozniac and Gates as good examples) but you need to have deep pockets, boundless energy, a skin thicker than a buffalo hide and really believe in yourself.

Each year the press and media are full of lists that try to predict what the next best thing in the employment sector might be – they are lists compiled by experts whose job it is to compile lists. Whilst worth looking at for some ideas and they might just contain a nugget or two about your particular choice, they are about what is on offer ‘today not tomorrow’ – hopefully your career will still be there in ten, fifteen or even twenty years from now.

But don’t get the wrong impression; careers are not for life, they can and do change. Apart from being laid off a couple of times I have been gainfully employed for almost half a century and never in that time had to throw myself at the mercy of social security. Be resilient, be aware of changing environments, don’t expect corporations to provide you with a career – their role in life is to make money for the shareholders. Many people I know have a common strand (mine is logistics and the supply chain) running through their working life but don’t be afraid to explore the other avenues that will open up.

I hear you mutter that you want to make a lot of money and that is going to be your only route to happiness. Well apply the brakes right now! What is most important is that you retain a high degree of job satisfaction and get better at doing whatever it is you chose to do. Having a mega-salary can be a ‘nice to have’ but if you are good at your job then the rewards ought to follow. Be conscious of your financial needs and use that as the benchmark when looking at those enticing descriptions of OTE $250,000 – sometimes it simply isn’t attainable. Be satisfied and secure rather than insecure and impecunious!

I talk to a lot of people embarking on that first step in a life-long career and some of them evince a feeling of dread that this is what they will be doing when their retirement fund matures. They couldn’t be more wrong. In the 80s there was a business guru called Tom Peters (“In Search Of Excellence”) who, along with others, predicted the demise of the thirty-year career and saw fifteen two-year careers making up the same trail – he wasn’t far wrong. Who says you have to choose one job and stay in it for life – that would be akin to a life sentence unless it was something you are so passionate about that all else pales into insignificance. And don’t think that what you have learned along the way (your skills and experience) will go down the sink if you change horses – these experiences and skills make you a very valuable commodity, just make sure you are good at each of them. Your skills are what are known as ‘transferable skills’ they go with you wherever you go.

If I am giving the impression of life being an endless stream of variety and rewarding roles, then I need to reverse that perception. Work is something you have to work at, unless you are one of life’s lucky few for whom a career path opens up and they progress with ease. For 99.9% of us the road is very bumpy indeed.
Another myth is that you should follow your friends or relative – the old sore about ‘what’s good for the goose…’ simply doesn’t apply. Its your life, your career except of course when you are joining the family business – and even then I would urge you to go an get other skills and experiences first so that you can enhance the business.

Whatever the route you choose there is a well known motto that applies “If you don’t have a plan any road will take you where you want to go!” and yet another; “If you fail to plan then you must plan to fail.” Planning is everything, even if it is short-term.

But don’t let me put you off, I have enjoyed all but one of my forty-seven years in employment – and that was because I took the wrong advice.

Good luck and bon voyage on your journey.