These days one career plan isn't enough. Even two career plans might not be enough. The chaos of today's job market means job seekers must be flexible and adapt their talents to a variety of settings. But how do you organize and make sense of all the possible career options you need to consider?
Start with a concept: Possible Lives. Add a strategy: Post-it Notes.
My liberal arts students, often accused of being clueless in the job search, aren't really clueless at all: they're just open-minded and interested in everything. Many of them find it hard to select a career because they don't have one in mind-- they have ten. They dislike the notion of limiting themselves to one career for their lives. This is a good thing-- because in this economy, you really can't focus on just one job or career plan. You need to consider Plans B, C, and maybe even D, simultaneously. You need to consider a variety of Possible Lives.
It's helpful to remember the wonderful Spanish saying, "La vida es corta, pero ancha": Life is short, but it's wide. You can, and likely will, have many careers and/or jobs in your future. What you decide to do first (or next, if you're a career changer) is just what you decide to do at the moment. You can transition to another career later when the economy improves-- or pursue several options simultaneously.
So how do you organize multiple career paths? How do you keep from getting stuck or overwhelmed?
Post-it Notes are the perfect job-search companion: they are cheap, plentiful, flexible, and ultimately expendable. No one stresses about throwing them away when they've outlived their usefulness. They are also great for jotting down motivational quotes, jokes, funny Tweets, etc. (See my post about the value of quotes for job seekers.)
A Carl Sandburg quote occupies today's top spot on my Post-it board: "I am an idealist. I don't know where I'm going but I'm on my way." It is the perfect quote for this exercise designed to help you organize your thoughts and give you the steps needed to move forward-- even when you aren't sure where you're headed. You can find more details about this exercise, including illustrations, in my book, You Majored in What?, but here are the basic steps that will get you started:
1. Start by determining the many "Possible Lives" you would like to live. I recommend you brainstorm this on a piece of blank paper-- just write down all the careers you've considered, would like to learn more about, might be interested in moving into, might relate to your primary field of interest, etc. Don't worry yet about income or your education-- the point is to get your ideas down first. Think about careers that could use the skills you have, but don't worry if they don't seem related.
2. Once you make your list, determine the ones that interest you the most, or that you consider the most viable (by your definition-- you are the only one who knows your situation). Don't hesitate to put down some desirable, yet risky choices that may not work out. For instance, "starting a band" or "professional blogger" are ideas you can test out in your non-working time.
3. Get a white board or piece of poster board. Write your top career/job choices (as well as significant life/hobby choices) on Post-its-- one for each title, activity or employer. For instance, you might select "TV Reporter", "Blogger", "Freelance Writer", "Lawyer" and "Teach for America"-- representing the top future plans that interest you the most.
4. Then using a stack of Post-it notes, quickly jot down one step toward one of those jobs and place it below the job title. For instance, under "Blogger" you might put "Read blogs for ideas", "Decide on blog title", "Create blogging plan", "Determine blog focus", "Learn WordPress" and so on. Some steps may be similar: you might have "research job opptys" or "write targeted resume" under each one of your job titles. By the end, you will have several columns filled with the steps to move toward your chosen areas. If you're having trouble identifying the steps, just ask yourself, "Could I do this job tomorrow?" If you answer is "no"-- then what steps need to happen first?
5. Start taking action on the various steps you've identified. Start with the steps that are most interesting. Which ones give you the most energy? Are you moving faster on the steps related to one specific career? Maybe that's the one to focus on or pursue first. When you lose interest in one (or it doesn't pan out) just take down the Post-its.
6. Combine steps for efficient time management. For instance, if "research" is an action step for all your choices, plan to spend an afternoon online or in the library researching all your career choices. Again, notice when what you learn gives you energy and makes you excited and when it takes away your energy.
The advantage of this system is that by writing down your choices and the steps, you have organized (and hopefully eliminated) all the clutter in your brain. You can now visualize the steps-- and adjust as needed. You can add deadlines to them if you want, or just make a deal with yourself that you will tackle one Post-it a day according to your mood.
The combination of Possible Lives thinking with Post-it organization can be just the ticket to get you on your way.