Do you have a career plan?
I’m sorry, that was a loaded question. Most people think they have a career plan, and according to everything they’ve been told their entire life, they do.
The problem is we’ve been lied to. As a child, you were taught two things:
As a result, most of us plan our careers the entirely wrong way. We set a big goal for our life, and then show up to work every day and grind. The path forward to us is, “Work harder and I’ll get there.”
That’s not a plan. That’s a dream.
Dreams are great. You need something to aim for, and you should never sell yourself short by aiming small. But when you wake up from dreaming big, you need a plan to get there.
Over more than a decade of research I created a five-step system that is designed to get you from where you are in your career and life today, to wherever you want to be.
When you get in your car, you know exactly where you want to go today. You’re not thinking about where you want to drive tomorrow or 10 years from now. You know the exact location you’re headed to, and you know how you’re going to get there. Even if you don’t know the route, your GPS only works if you give it a specific destination.
Without a plan, you’d just be driving aimlessly — burning through gas, wasting your day — using a bunch of energy for no reason whatsoever.
As obvious as this seems, most people approach their workday the same. They know where they want to be ten years from now, but they have no idea where they want to be tonight.
Most people are aimless because their goals are outcome-oriented.
In my article on how top CEOs set goals, I explained the approach that separates real winners from the rest of the world. Top performers set goals that are process-oriented.
For example, let’s say you’re just starting your career in sales. You’re working in an entry level position, doing a lot of cold-calling. You probably have a monthly goal you’re trying to hit, a sales quota, or dollar revenue number.
If you just decide to show up every day and work hard hoping that you hit your number, you might, but it’s more likely you’ll fail. You can’t drive today if you’re thinking about where you’re driving every day for the next month, and you must drive your success in the present.
Instead of focusing on the big number at the end of the month, change your goal from an outcome to a process.
Don’t think, “I’m going to make this many sales this month.” Instead, commit to a goal like: “I’m going to call at least 20 leads today, with the goal to ask at least 5 questions, keep each of them on the phone for the duration of my script, and close more than I did yesterday. At the end of the day, I’m going to reflect on my process and look for improvements.”
Do you see the difference? You’ve set up a repeatable process for yourself that you can execute on every day, and you’ve also baked in a way for you to continuously improve.
Define what you want by the process that will get you there, not just the ultimate outcome.
Look, in the end, success is easy: Are you better than your competitors? In a foot race it’s simple, and in every facet of life it’s the same. Winners get clear on what it takes to win, and they build themselves into the person who can do it.
This requires getting very skilled at building and putting to work your winning strategy, which demands that you collect a lot of information about the world around you, and more importantly, about yourself.
Studying how other people win is very useful, but at the end of the day, you aren’t other people. Sure, Arnold Schwartzenegger’s strategy led him to Mr. Universe, but you aren’t Arnie. You have your own unique goals and makeup, that requires you to build your own unique strategy for success.
This might seem complicated, but I’ve broken it down into three key steps that make building your own system incredibly simple.
Success leaves a trail. Follow it.
In every pursuit in life, someone else has figured out how to win. Ask yourself what they did, and do some of that too. Now, we’re not just talking about what makes other people successful, you also want to know what leads others to lose.
You want to go as deep as you can on this, collecting as much intel on winners and losers, but you also want to recognize this isn’t just a cut and paste job.
As I wrote about in my article on effectively using role models, the key here is to have multiple role models who each individually exhibit the winning qualities you like, which you then combine into your “Composite Role Model,” or “Character.”
Doing this you might find that you can grab the charisma of one person, the self-control of another, the work ethic and fight of a third, and the wit of a fourth, which you then use to practice these “Character Traits.”
In his memo Principles, revolutionary thinker and leading hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio defines principles as “…concepts that can be applied over and over again in similar circumstances as distinct from narrow answers to specific questions.”
You may have a million different methods and strategies to get what you want, but if you’re doing it right, you will only need a handful of principles to guide those choices. In my work on Wall Street and with my clients across industries, I’ve come to see these five principles as the most crucial to professional success:
Whatever you learn in the previous two steps is about as helpful to you in getting what you want, as reading the thousands of mostly useless self-help books…
Sure, it might be the best way that I can imagine to build your strategy, but until you have your own custom-built strategy that is specifically tailored for you, you’ve got nothing!
Seriously, LeBron might have looked up to Jordan his entire career. He might know every single one of his plays. He might have rehearsed them billions of times. But until LeBron takes what he learns and develops his own unique style of play, he’s never going to win.
You don’t win by knowing how your role models or even you win. You win when you take that knowledge and build your own bespoke strategy that is built specifically for you:
Always remember, this is about figuring out how YOU win.
I insulted the school system earlier for its pathetic deficiency in helping any of us create the careers and lives that we want, and I will continue to beat that drum. But there is something very powerful we learn throughout our education:
You learn methodically.
You spend the better part of the first two decades of your life in school. From learning your ABCs all the way through your SATs you develop an enormous amount of knowledge. Looking back on decades of learning you see that knowledge was built up for you in a methodical way that enabled you to keep progressing year after year.
Can you imagine how you would learn if all that knowledge was simply thrown at you in one year? What about one week? Instead, it was planned out and fed to you one chunk at a time.
One big reason people fail to get value from planning is that they craft elaborate plans that they are unwilling to execute. Like a drunk idiot at a bar, their mouths write checks that their bodies can’t cash.
Right now just pull out a sheet of paper, and draw out a plan you are actually willing to execute by following these two steps:
First, visualize your plan. Even before you put anything on paper, just sit back for a few moments and think about your career and life path. Imagine all the way out to the end of your life and see your life for what you dream it to be. And from here, look back and see the many steps that came together for you.
That’s step one. Easy, right? Well, step two is the easiest career plan you’ve ever seen. Like those unfortunate people who develop elaborate business plans that are out-dated even before they get started, you only want to plan as LITTLE as you need to keep you moving.
Do this by drawing four boxes on a page. In the top box, write, “Winning!” Then, draw the three boxes coming off this like an organizational chart, which you then label:
Keep moving down layer after layer, adding more nuance until you have a clear plan of attack across all three workstreams.
If you’re reading this article, I know you are already someone who takes action. To have successfully made it to a good job, execution is something you know how to do.
That’s why I expect you will find execution to be the easiest step in this guide. So instead of sharing with you what more you can do, instead, we are asking: What less can you do?
Thoreau wrote, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” That’s why I’ve broken execution down into five principles:
Definitions of words like “execution” can get nebulous and ambiguous very fast. It’s critical that you break it down to composite parts that are actionable and concrete.
Originally published at medium.com