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How should I start with career planning?

Career planning can be abstract and difficult to do. How can we help ourselves to get started on career planning?


Find new job? Sign up for a course? Refresh my resume?

Conversations with friends, colleagues about career planning often lead into discussions and advice about job search, skills upgrading, networking.


"I know someone who is looking for someone to hire..."

"You should quickly update your resume and not wait for the worst to happen....."

"Go take up higher learning, there are so many subsidised courses out there...."

"Better for you to become a specialist with a skill, to become irreplaceable..."


Statements like the above are often bandied around from well meaning people. Before long, the conversation will often end with "Well, you have to know what you want for yourself" and this can become frustrating as you feel no closer to knowing about what to do for your career.


Career ACTIONS and PLANS are different

Activities like job search, resume updates, course enrolment are ACTIONS that help you for your career. These actions implement the PLANS you have for your career. They are different!


Career ACTIONS refer to the implementation of your Career PLANS.

Career PLANS refer to your future hopes, direction for your work and life.


Knowing this difference helps us to understand the importance of considering what we want for ourselves, before we decide on the actions we want to take. Since what we want for ourselves is never static and is aways changing as we grow, the process of career planning is therefore also never ending. We are essentially always in a state of "Work-in-Progress". We should view career planning as a continuous process that helps us make sense of what we want and what we do.


The Action-Oriented, Hope-Centred career planning cycle below illustrates career planning as a pinwheel that spins continuously. Each petal on the pinwheel represents stages that we have to go through as we consider our career planning. It includes being reflective, having self awareness, having a future hope and goal, making plans, taking actions and adapting along the way. As the environment wind blows stronger, the pinwheel spins faster, illustrating the need go through these stages more frequently and quickly.


Hope-Action Theory, Spencer Niles, Norman Amundson, Hyung Joon Yoon, 2010

Getting started: Make Time and Choices

A good place to start on the pinwheel is that of Self-Reflection and Self-Clarity. These stages are often unprocessed, glossed over or skipped entirely because we tend to gravitate towards outcomes and seek to act on options and opportunities. This happens when we realise we don't know how to describe ourselves and our abilities and have no idea of what we hope to achieve with our lives. Hence instead of thinking for ourselves, we get by through becoming reliant on what our jobs and employers require of us, what colleagues, friends and even family expect of us.


An unbalanced pinwheel will not spin well in the wind. This is why we need to regularly reflect on our work, our lives and stock take our abilities and aspirations for ourselves. To help us do this, the first thing we should do in career planning is to make time and choices for ourselves, because of the effects outlined in the table below.

In Control of Time and Choices

Not In Control of Time and Choices

Clearer work and life boundaries, creating more space for rest, wellness, relationship building among family and workplace

Frequent overlaps between work and life, creating burnout for self, guilt and tension for family and workplace

Daily hopeful mode, with anticipation for something new and interesting, creating ideas, interests to explore around work and home situations

Daily survival mode, with little aspiration for self, creating dread and unhappiness at work and home situations

Looks at life with a long term view, able to anticipate voluntary and involuntary changes in life, with an optimistic and hopeful outlook

Looks at life with a short term view, concerned about making mistakes and missing opportunities, with a pessimistic and fearful outlook

Career planning places us in the centre of the consideration. As selfish as this may sound, it makes sense because we are the ones working and living in our lives; no one can step into the office to do your work for you, no one can step into house to take care of your family for you. Just like how aeroplane emergency procedures inform us to put on our oxygen masks for ourselves first before we tend to the person beside us, we have to be responsible for our own careers before we can adequately help and support others around us.


Taking back control of Time and Choices

For many of us, we may have to learn how to take back control of our time and choices because we have been so used to following instructions, meeting expectations and staying in line with the herd.


Here are some useful tips that can help you practice taking back control of your time and choices:


1. Map out how much time you typically spend on different roles of your life, as an employee, parent, child etc. Reflect on the time spent and make practical adjustments in areas where you feel should change. Share your decisions with loved ones or close friends and be accountable to them.


2. Learn to say "No". Everyone has limits and saying "no" means that we know where our limits are. While this may create discomfort and possible tension for you with colleagues, bosses and even friends and loved ones at home, seek their understanding by explaining your limitations and also explain what you are still able to do instead.


3. Learn to ask for help. Receiving help from others allow us to be more productive and creates space for us to think beyond our current situations.


If you face difficulty with making time and choices for yourself and your career, you can also consider seeking help from a trained Career Counsellor. Their support aims to give you the space to articulate, a mirror to reflect and the support to make changes for yourself.

Time is fleeting, yet meaningful, only if you know how to use it ~ Anonymous

At AVODAH People Solutions, we provide career guidance services to people who are considering career changes, making a job change or currently in a transition to find a job and also career enrichment services to people who want to be more effective at work. Share your career situation with us so that we can support you. You can also use our curated listing of free career resources.

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