Showing posts with label Career Guidance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Career Guidance. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

It's OKAY not to have a PLAN!

Photo by Rachel McDermott on Unsplash

The society expects us to plan our life as per a standard template and follow a prescribed path of milestones at various stages of life. 

The moment a girl or a boy enters high school, most of them are confronted with the following questions: 

  • Which stream are you planning to take in 11th?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • Aur beta, bade hogar kya banoge?

In other words, the society expects you to have a Career PLAN.

As a career counsellor, I come across so many teenagers and young adults who haven't made up their mind yet, on what they would like to pursue in their lives. Very few of them are comfortable being in this lack of clarity. On contrary, the majority of them express being in a state of confusion, feeling inadequate and they are desperately seeking for guidance. 

From my experience, the teenagers who are comfortable with not having a plan yet, usually have a safety net of supportive and understanding parents and guardians. However, the significant proportion of young adults who express confusion, dilemma and inadequacy are dealing with family pressure, peer pressure, pressure from teachers and society's expectations from them to have plan sooner than later.

If I draw upon my 20+ years of working experience I have come across so many bright professionals women and men, who did not have a concretized plan but they are doing extremely well and leading a successful career. They took up things as it came along, went with the flow and capitalized upon the opportunities life presented to them. 

A self-confession, I too never had not have a concrete plan. By temperament, I have believed in the importance of life's journey, to stay on course with the life's ups and down, than being overtly focused on a plan and the destination.

At this juncture, it would be appropriate to shift gears from my view point to real world evidences (case studies) to that I can bring in objectivity and not request you to just subscribe to my world view just out of good faith.

I was reading The Week Magazine (edition, May 29, 2022). The cover story 'Lessons Life Has Taught Me'. featured several prominent, successful men and women. The narration is in an interview style format, where they walk us (readers) through their professional life's journey. Behind their illustrious careers and achievements, if you pay attention, you will discover they too didn't have a plan in their life. They went through the journey of life, meandering, going with the flow, stumbling upon changes and opportunities and making their own luck. 

Let me mention two illustrious examples from this cover story:

  • Bibek Debroy (Economist and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister):

As a graduate student Mr Debroy wanted to study Physics in Presidency College, Kolkata. This was during the mid 1960s, when Kolkata was in the midst of considerable left-wing turbulence. Presidency College and especially the Science dept was perceived to be the hotbed of turbulence. Hence, his parents denied him the permission to study Physics at Presidency. They arrived at a compromise, by allowing Mr Debroy to study Economics and not Physics at Presidency college. 

Just thing about it! Someone like Mr Bibek Debroy who has had such an illustrious career as an Economist, didn't even have the plan to study Economics as a graduate student. Life's circumstances, thrusted upon Economics on him.  

Mr Debroy mentions in the interview, his venturing into 'Application based Economics' from Theory, was purely by chance. When he wasn't able to secure a permanent teaching position at Presidency College, he applied to Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune. Gokhale Institute provided Mr Bibek the exposure to application based Economics, which shaped his career as an Economist in the years to follow. 

Fast forward into several decades later, Mr Debroy turned into an author and when NITI Aayog was formed in 2015, he was one of it's first members. Since 2017, he has been the chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the prime minister. 

His brush with writing emerged out of a near death experience and not out of a well laid out plan. In 2004, he was in ICU dealing with a life and death situation. In the interview Mr Bibek says, "When you are there in the ICU, and you realise that you are at that point when you are not sure whether you are going to live or not, it's almost as if your entire life flashes before you. And you begin to ask: Who am I? What am I doing here? I decided that, if I survived, in that calender year 2004 I was going to bring out 12 books. That year, I actuallly published 15 books. Since then, I only write what I feel like writing, not because it is going to add to my resume."

Mr Bibek Debroy summarises the life's lessons in his own words: 

"I think that life's lesson really is that each one of us has a destiny. The fortunate few may realise this destiny.  

  • Ramachandra Guha (Historian, Writer):

In the interview, Mr Guha says, "In my day, at the age of 16, you chose your college subject. And I wanted to play cricket. So, I had to choose a humanities subject which would give me time in the afternoons to go for practice."

Just think about it! one of the most renowned historian and scholar Mr Guha didn't plan to take up Humanities for becoming a historian. He took up humanities, so that he could continue to play cricket along with his studies. 

Infact, his first choice of subject was English Literature. In the interview he goes on to say, "I would have liked to have studied English literature; back in the 1970s it was regarded as a girl's subject, so I studied economics. I was intellectually directionless in college, but I was doing many other things. I was playing bridge, was in the college quiz team and was editing the college magazine. I got focus in life only after I read about [the British-Indian anthropologist] Verrier Elwin at the age of 21, then got interested in sociology and anthropology."

Today we all know Mr Guha for his magnum opus 'India After Gandhi'. But once again, this project was not an outcome of his own plan. This project was suggested to Mr Guha by a publisher. "In the year 1998, India had just celebrated it's 50th year of independence. Publisher, Peter Straus suggested me to write a book on what happened after 1947. When I was commissioned to write it, I was 40. It came out when I was nearly 50, after almost a decade of researching and writing."

Mr Ramachandra Guha summarises the life lessons in his own words: 

"You must always go by your own instinct. Success is incidental. It is really the quality of work that must give you satisfaction. You must feel that you have done something that you are happy with and that has utilised your energies and talents fully."

It's OKAY not to have a PLAN!, has this approach been part of any serious scientific study? 

Apparently yes. 

Stanford Professor John D. Krumboltz along with his colleagues Levin and Kathleen Mitchell developed the 'Planned Happenstance Theory'. 

John Krumboltz, right, with a simulation game for choosing careers. (Image credit: Jose Mercado)
Copyright: Image provided by the Standford University News Services

"Arbitrary events have important influence on people's lives. All these events that happen in life are unpredictable and let's be grateful that they're unpredictable." - John D. Krumboltz

The main tenet of Planned Happenstance theory is "things in life will happen", whether we like them or not, and you can or need to prepare to see and take up these opportunities in your life.

Krumboltz et al recognizes that career planning didn't depend on one off career decisions taken as a teenager or as a working professional. Rather career planning is ongoing, often unplanned or influenced by unplanned and unpredictable events. 

So next time, when you find yourself in dilemma and in self-doubt and feeling miserable for lack of clarity about your next career steps, tell yourself "It's OKAY not to have a Plan!"

After this comforting self-talk, take the key points of Krumboltz et al 'Planned Happenstance Theory' and apply them in your career journey:

  1. Be aware of your surroundings - it's important to see opportunities and to keep your options open
  2. Take a risk, even with rejection as possible outcome - trying is better than not trying at all. Not trying leads to lost opportunities
  3. Be adaptable and open-minded - accept changes and engage with them. Say 'yes' when you can, not when there's no other option 
  4. Qualities that helps to make the most of the chanced opportunities are:
  • Curiosity
  • Persistence
  • Flexibility
  • Optimism
  • Risk taking
     5. Attributes to help turn chance opportunities into career opportunities are:

  • Commitment to ongoing learning
  • Ongoing self-assessment
  • Feedback from others
  • Effective networking
  • Work life balance
  • Financial planning for unemployment 

 In our culture, we are expected to be decisive about our careers goals and to have a plan. This cultural value attribution puts those who are uncertain under pressure and makes them feel inadequate. 

I hope it's now evident to you, that an undecided person who is actively exploring and learning about career opportunities may very well carve out an unexpected, but fulfilling career. 

Even those who have clearly defined career goals now, it may not remain fixed forever. They may find their goals changing over a period of time, as life progresses and situation changes. 

So remember, it's also OKAY not to have a plan. Just keep yourself open to chance events, be curious, be optimistic, take risk, be flexible, stay persistent, keep learning and explore new opportunities. Who knows what you'll end up doing!

#career #learning #success #opportunity #luck #life #careerguidance #careerplanning #careercoach #counselling #careergoals #destiny #wisdom #hope #believe #trust #journey #lifejourney #inspiration #plannedhappenstance #krumboltz


  1. The Week magazine cover story 'Lessons Life Has Taught Me' also features Harsha Bhogle, Ritu Kumar, Sushmita Sen, Narayan Murthy and Tarun Tahiliani.