Prioritizing Your Life, One Step at a Time
Back in October, I wrote a piece for WayUp about prioritizing your needs in your job search. One of the five tips I offered was to view your next role as a one- or two-year commitment. I shared that one of the most overwhelming aspects of a job search can be perceiving that whatever decision we make will last for years or for our entire lives. We put a tremendous amount of pressure on the decisions we believe will shape us, our success, and our experience of ourselves and the world around us.
This pressure can influence our decision or skew our priorities. Pressure, in this case and many others, can lead us to feel trapped.
To relieve some of that pressure, let’s delve deeper into six freedoms that come with a one- or two-year plan. I call this short-term vision.
1. Freedom not to know the long-term answers
At 17 or 18, often sooner, we are expected to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This may also sound like, “What is your major?” or, “Do you have an internship this summer?”
Occasionally, we have a friend, roommate, or loved one who is on a laser-focused mission. This person knows exactly what the next 15 years looks like, broken down into digestible, action-oriented steps.
This person is not the norm. More often, you have a range of interests. You haven’t yet had the opportunity to try them all in a professional setting. You haven’t yet been exposed to the variety of ways in which you can employ your many passions and skills.
If you commit to a one- or two-year plan, the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can be “I don’t know.” Because you don’t have to know. Because, despite the many stressors and decisions that come with technology and a wealth of information, we are experiencing a transition in career trajectory. We do not know what the next 1, 5, or 10 years will bring. Even if you had a plan for your future, you would very likely need to adjust it.
When you create a vision for the next year or two years, your answer can revolve around what you are doing now. What are your goals for the next 12 months? Why?
2. Freedom to try something new
The question that often follows an inevitable “I don’t know” response to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is “Well, what are you good at?”
This question is not obsolete. You may encounter much insight by exploring what you are good at. Often, you are good at something because you have prioritized learning more about it, or you practice it often because it brings you joy.
However, just because you are good at something, does not necessitate that you are passionate about it. You may be a very talented mathematician but hate formulas.
When we were expected to work in one place for a lifetime, and to advance through a hierarchy, it made sense to evaluate what skills of ours stood out most among the others.
When you have a one- or two-year plan, you have the freedom to challenge yourself. You have the freedom to try something new.
Say you are the talented mathematician mentioned above. You are 24 and have been working two years in your current math-focused, office-based job. You find that the best part of your day is when you have an opportunity to answer others’ math-related questions. You wonder what it would be like to teach.
With a one- or two-year plan, you can experiment. Say you volunteer as a teacher for one or two years. At 26, you have a chance to return to an office-based job, having lost nothing, or, perhaps, you have discovered a new trajectory for yourself, which creates more opportunities for the best parts of your day, and reduces the worst.
3. Freedom to explore the next level of your current skills
Say, unlike the mathematician above, you are satisfied with your current work. However, you are beginning to feel comfortable. Perhaps a little too comfortable. You wonder what the next chapter of your professional trajectory looks like, but you don’t want to transition to another place of work.
With your one- or two-year plan, you can pencil additional learning into your routine. Perhaps you are an engineer and you code in three languages. Over one or two years, you may like to learn a fourth. For one evening or one weekend afternoon per week, during your short-term vision, you take an online course or join a coding community and learn with a team. That fourth language may open doors for you, either in your current role, in a more senior role at your current company, or at a new company entirely.
4. Freedom to fail
Even reading the word “fail” may tighten some knots in your stomach. As hinted in the anecdotes above, having a one- or two-year plan affords you an opportunity to fail with limited risk.
Either the mathematician or the engineer above may try teaching, or the fourth language, and fail. They may hate it. They may not be very good at it. After the 12 or 24 months, they will have tried something new, grown as a person, familiarized with new and different sides of their personal and professional personalities, and in the end, found themselves in the same position. A mere one or two years older, the only loss is time.
Ekaterina Walter, a contributor at Forbes and a powerful leader, spoke in a Ted Talk about failure and shared 30 inspiring quotes with Forbes here. One that speaks to me is from Ellen DeGeneres, who said, “When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”
As mentioned above, we are in a professional age where we transition between various roles and places of work. What matters more than age in job applications is experience, resilience, self-awareness about your strengths and weaknesses, and willingness to try. What matters most is not whether you fail, but how you react when you inevitably fail, and how you go about bouncing back.
5. Freedom to familiarize with yourself
Each and every moment, day, and year, we change. There is no possible way we can know at 18 who we will be and what we will want at 65.
With a one- or two-year plan, you can ask yourself, “What am I most curious about right now?”
What do you want to learn more about? What new skills can complement your current role? What new roles do you find your mind wandering to between tasks?
Maybe your work life is relatively stable right now. What inspires your curiosity outside of work? Have you been wanting to read more but finding the time is the challenge? Have you been meaning to change your relationship with food but are finding yourself at a loss of a reliable resource or guide?
Perhaps—and this can be the scariest of all—you feel a gnawing sense of wanting something different, but you do not know what you want, what inspires you, or what you’d like to change.
In this case, your one- or two-year plan can be to challenge yourself to find out. Test the waters. Go to meet-ups or new classes. Join a book club.
One of the best resources for familiarizing with yourself can be therapy. Build this relationship to learn more about your internal world. Ask yourself difficult, thought-provoking questions. Realize how your past and present are impacting your perspective. Which aspects would you like to hold on to, and which would you prefer to let go?
6. Freedom to write the next chapter
After all, the one- or two-year plan is finite. Break down your goals into measurable chunks. Begin with chunks you can comfortably achieve and work up to goals that are more challenging, or more of a reach. Celebrate your wins and lean into your losses. With both, you will learn a tremendous amount.
This post may so far feel over simplified. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that change is hard. Setting and achieving goals takes diligence and determination. Blood, sweat, and tears is not a shallow expression.
I encourage you to seek and accept support where and when you can. Your first task is to trust and understand you have the answers within yourself. Your next task is to build an army of supporters around you who will remind you when you need it how brilliant you truly are, just as you are.
As the one or two years come to a close, reflect on where and who you were when you embarked on your short-term vision. Explore which aspects of your journey have changed. And finally, of course, the journey continues. Write your next chapter.