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Everyone Has A Career Plan Until They Get (Metaphorically) Punched In The Face

fist punch

About two years ago in Wellington, I met Paul at a show in which I was performing. Backstage, we got to chatting. He was a man in his twenties with a job that perhaps many in their twenties might consider a snoozefest but a good job with prospects – a Government job. He’d just taken a step up and seemed settled in putting his artistic endeavours on the backburner into the hobbyist dilettante category and knuckling down to focus on his increasingly adult responsibilities. I was twice his age or thereabouts but could still vividly recall being in that situation myself and making similar decisions. Not that these things are one definitive decisions they’re more a series of decisions every day that you don’t make.

One day not long after (and I hope that I in no way influenced him), he made one definitive decision. He quit that job, disconnected his connections, sold everything he couldn’t carry and moved to Germany – a country where he knew no one and did not speak the language.

I’m prompted to write about Paul because today on FaceBook, he posted that his mission for 2018 was to do one new thing a day and he was asking the online hive mind for ideas. He sees this as a way to push himself into challenges and extend his personal growth beyond his comfort zone. I’m writing a book on much the same topic at the moment and have just developed a presentation on doing two dangerous things a year. Not so much Paul’s version of lots of little things but regular significant things with potential risks.

In this article as a provocative thought for my readers, I’m trying to contrast two distinctive approaches to proactive change. Most of the change we experience is probably happening to us rather than being initiated by us. That’s reactive change. We have our plans and we truck on until life sticks out a leg and trips us up or thrusts out a helping hand and gives us an assist. Plans are great but, as boxer Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Plans are like the deadlines that author Douglas Adams wrote about, “I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by”.

A thin slice of the population make proactive choices to change their employment situations. Brave souls. Do they make little continuous choices – like attending nightschool or starting a sideline online business? Or, do they pack it all in, quit the day job with no next gig in sight and see what happens? It’s certainly a wide spectrum. Where have you sat on that scale? Where do you sit on that scale? Where will you sit on that scale?

Marvin Zuckerman created a scale where we can complete an assessment and it’ll categorise our ‘type’ when it comes to sensation seeking – effectively our comfort and behaviour around change and risk. Whether this aspect of our character is genetic or learned is debated. Like everything else, it’s probably a bit of both. I chose to believe it can be a choice. Are you a thrill seeker, experience seeker, disinhibitor, or a boredom susceptible?

These questions are tough to answer off the top of your head and we’re often very poor assessors of ourselves. Track down those best friends of yours and ask them. Real best friends – ones who’ll tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. I send out an assessment to people after my presentation if they ask for it. (Everyone asks for it).

There’s a quick ‘n’ dirty way to know. Three questions. When going with a group to an exotic restaurant that wasn’t your choice, what do you consider when ordering? When arriving at 5pm on a business trip for which you’re fully prepared for a single night stay by yourself in a town you’ve never been to, what do you do that night? At a large gathering of staff, many of whom you don’t know well, what do you do during the scheduled break / networking time? See if you spot a pattern in your answers.

Or, you can look back on the changes you reacted to and initiated in your career to date and analyse those. The best predictor of your future is your past behaviour. And our past behaviour is exactly what got us to wherever we are today. If you’d like something different in your career, then proactively reviewing and adapting that past behaviour of yours is a necessary step.

I quoted Mike Tyson and Douglas Adams earlier in this article. Now, I’m going to quote myself. I have convinced myself I thought of this and I steadfastly refuse to google it in case 17,912 other people already did. So, at the time of writing, author speaker and trainer Terry Williams said, “People don’t resist change; they resist being changed”.

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