Career planning for twenty-somethings: Why a three year plan of action is the new ten.

What do you see yourself doing in five to ten years?

That’s a big, important, overwhelming question. In my experience, five to ten years is too long of a runway to come up with a concrete plan of action. Think about all of the things you’ve done over the last five to ten years. You’ve likely had some major life changes in that time. Planning that far into the future isn’t really a productive exercise in our fast paced world.

When I advise twenty-somethings, instead of asking them to map out the next ten years, I ask them to picture their ideal career in three years. Three years gives my clients enough time and space to think about what they want to do, come up with a plan, and act on it. Here are some steps you can take to come up with a strategic plan for your life and career:

  1. Forget the pathways that have been prescribed to you — To start any strategic planning process, I always encourage twenty-somethings to consider the variety of pathways they have. Our college degrees focused too much to think about the broad opportunities that may be available to us as. Tip: For a moment, forget your specific path and forget the degree that you earned. Instead, write down the specific skills you developed pursuing your degree and use that as a foundation as you think about the next three years of your career. 
  2. Pull the levers necessary to develop the right career path — We all have wants and needs that pertain to our life and career. No two people are the same. Don’t let the advice of others dictate your path because they often took a different path than the one you’d like to pursue. Here are the things that will help determine your three year path:
    1. Do you want/have a family? 
    2. Do you want to be making more money?
    3. Do you want a more financially stable career?
    4. Do you have time for hiking/relaxing/hanging out with family and friends?
    5. Do you want more artistically satisfying work? 
  3. Write down a narrative, based on how you answer the questions above. This part of the process is incredibly eye opening and powerful. Here’s an example:By the year 2020, I will be married to my partner, making at least $10,000 more than I currently make with a mix of 60% artistic work, 20% private lesson instruction, and 20% work outside my field to give me a bit more financial stability. I will keep my work week to a maximum of 35 hours so I have more time to create new works of art. In order to find this work/life balance, I will work to let go of the four gigs that are the most time consuming and least satisfying.You can’t start to plan strategically until you have a sense about where you’d like to go. How does this process resonate with you? I think the trick is to consider all the levers you are willing to pull in order to have a satisfying career, especially in work that is not related to your art.  You might be surprised by how much more satisfied you are in your work and career. Here are some tips on how to achieve your three year goals.

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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