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How Making Too Many Life Plans Limits Your Potential

The self help gurus, the pundits, the published authors, and so called thought leaders have been telling us for years to make plans, set goals and do everything you can to accomplish those goals. Write it all down. Kick ass  and take names. But they left something out. It’s probably not going work out the way you envision it will.  They rarely tell you that you have to be willing to stray from the plan and ride the wave in the direction its taking you. They didn’t tell you that with your mind set on a certain future, you’ve just written limitation into your life.

At the age of 21, summer of after my junior year in college I was sitting in the office of a sales manager at Sun Microsystems where I was an intern. I had setup an informational interview with him even though I was a web development intern, because I was convinced that sales was my calling in life. It’s a conversation I’ll never forget because the guy told me “I bet you have it all planned out and think you know what it’s all going to look like by the time you turn 25.” I did and I was caught up in visions of expense accounts, commission checks, president’s clubs, and all the other perks of sales. None of this went according to plan just as he said it wouldn’t.

Nine years later I found myself sitting in the office of director of marketing at Intuit with a familiar unpleasant feeling. Despite my best efforts, I had finished the internship and the company had decided not to make an offer. It turned out they didn’t see me as enough of a leader. I had it all planned out. Get my MBA. Get a 90k a year salary, get that big brand name on my resume, and eventually the corner office.  That didn’t work out. But my boss said something to me that I realize was the catalyst for many things. He said “I don’t feel guilty not making you an offer because I’m not even sure you would have accepted. But what you should know is that I’ve removed the one safety net that you have. Now anything is possible.”  I was overcome by self defeat, packed my bags, and left the office convinced that my career was basically a failure and the guy was full of shit.

Fear, Comfort and Safety Nets are insidious career killers that keep people from reaching their true potential.  Most of the life/career that I’ve been creating for myself today would not have existed if my boss hadn’t removed my one and only safety net. When you’re stuck in the box of all your plans, you shut off infinite possibility. When opportunity presents itself you’re blind to it because you’re so set on sticking to your path. You end up a victim of tunnel vision. God forbid you end up on the scenic route and get lost along the way. At least with your plans, you know where you’re headed. Or do you?  Mark Harai gave me some brilliant advice the other day when I was hanging out with him. He said “just plan for success and don’t give any thought to how or when it’s going to happen.”  It’s easier said than done and if you take this leap of faith you’ll more than likely find yourself standing on the edge of success with adversity as the catalyst.

It’s OK if You Don’t Have the Answers

If there’s one thing that we learn in school that really doesn’t seem to help us all that much in life it’s having all the answers. You know that smart kid that you want to punch in the face because he always knows the answer to the teacher’s question?  I was raised to be that kid.  For a good amount of my life I always had the answer. Then I finished college and I thought the answer was we the ego driven pursuit of a life that looks good on paper. When people sense that you don’t know what you want to do with your life, it really seems to bother them. They expect you to have answers. My dad once asked me “so how long do you plan to work like this or live like this? I think you need to find a normal/stable job.” I think that fact I didn’t really have an answer bugged him. I’ve had the answer my whole life and most of the time I was WRONG.  But we can’t really blame ourselves. When we say the words “I don’t know” when a teacher calls us on us, because of all the meaning we’ve given that phrase, it’s almost as bad as raising your hand and saying “I’m an idiot.” We’re so brainwashed into the importance of knowing the answer that we start to adopt the kind of beliefs that are detrimental to our well being. In fact we’ll go so far as to settle rather than settle down because we’re so damn concerned about knowing the answers and making sure we meet other people’s expectations. It’s a never ending cycle of compensating for what you think you lack, even though you’re amazing just the way you are. It’s actually kind of sick when you think about. Think about what it does to our confidence when we say “I don’t know.” But imagine standing up sand saying “I don’t have a clue”  with confidence. At 33, I honestly don’t have all the answers and I’m not limited by a plan.

Are We Really Meant to do Just One Thing?

A few weeks back when I asked people what they wanted to be when they grew up,Matt Koenig from 1 year Sabbatical left a really interesting answer. He had never wanted to be just one thing when he grew up, so he wasn’t. He’d had a variety of careers ranging from biologist to photographer.  Some people might question his sense of direction. But I think he might be on to something. Perhaps that’s why there’s not a sense of satisfaction in many jobs. As human beings we’re multi-dimensional and it seems almost natural to explore.  Why would we be born with so many amazing abilities if we were only meant to use a portion of them? Sometimes we get set on a path far too early in life, which doesn’t allow us to take a turn in a different direction. I can honestly relate to Matt. I don’t know if there was just one thing that I was meant to do. I seem to have gone through a few careers myself over the last 10 years, and can’t help but think that Matt was spot on when he said “variety is the spice of life.”

In almost every area of our lives we tend to embrace this notion of variety. We travel to different countries. We try different foods. In some cases we date different people. We have multiple friends from different walks of life.  But when it comes to our careers we’re forced to choose a direction often before we even realize what we really want out of life. I always thought I wanted to climb the corporate ladder, be a hotshot executive, and rule the boardroom. Then I attended a few meetings in corporate America and realized with my attention span, I’d probably want to gouge my eyes out if that’s what being a hotshot executive was all about. Fortunately, we’re at  a time in our history where our options are limitless and we have the option to be career nomads, exploring based on our interests.  So before you start making too many plans, remember that we really have no idea how it’s all going to turn out.

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