Saturday, December 12, 2015 Gabby Bill 0 Comments

If you believe that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator offers anything of value (which I do, but apparently studies have shown it's a bunch of gobbledygook), then the fact that I'm an INTJ will tell you a lot about my personality. And while I've fluctuated over the years between E and I, N and S (that's extraversion versus introversion and intuitive versus sensing for those not familiar), I have absolutely, 100% always been a J.

J stands for judging, and confusingly, has nothing to do with how judgmental you are and more to do with how you like to live your life. J people prefer plans, structure, order, organization and sticking to decisions once they've been made. P people (the opposite of J's) prefer spontaneity, flexibility, adaptability and staying open minded as new information comes in.

If you know I'm an INTJ, you'll understand more clearly why I flinch in pain when you cancel our date at the last minute, or why I obsessively clean and organize my desk before I sit down and start my work. It's also why I write all of my engagements down in a paper calendar, why I have my workouts planned a week in advance and why I'm known to build daily (sometimes hourly) schedules for my vacations. These behaviors drive P people crazy, but J's like me find comfort in control.

Here's the downside. While us J people are excellent party planners, reliable partners in a relationship and the people least likely to forget a birthday, anniversary or important detail, we absolutely suck at dealing with, and embracing, the unknown. In fact, we overcompensate in these moments of uncertainty by reverting to what we do best: planning. And what tends to come along with the planning? Worry that the plan will fall through.

I read an analogy recently that helps bring this concept to life, and it goes a little something like this:

Would you feel foolish wearing your winter coat in the summer? We all know that winter comes every year, but most of us don't walk out our doors in July wearing a wool coat simply because we know that three or six months from now it could be cold enough to need one.

Yet, we do this routinely with our emotions. We anticipate the future and react emotionally as if "what we fear is imminent." With our winter coats, we know it's good enough to have one in the closet, and when it's time to wear it, we can take it out. But with our emotions, we make ourselves miserable anticipating the future, instead of waiting and dealing with what the future brings when it actually happens.

Now let's bring this concept to our careers.

I found my inspiration for this article from another post written by a (very well known, well-respected) coach. Her post was titled "Travel is terrible for your career," and in it she talks about how people who travel are "wasting their time," how it makes you look like you were incapable of getting a job, or perhaps worst of all, gives the appearance that you're a wanderer without a plan.

I haven't read enough of her content to know whether this is representative of her approach, but I do take issue with a lot of what she says here (including her judgmental tone and supposition that her experiences are applicable to everyone). That said, what really got me going was this concept that you must have a plan for your career or be forever doomed. Please. One of my beliefs is that we are absolutely foolish to be teaching teenagers and young adults that you have to have a "life plan" by the time you're 21. Or 31. Or 41. That's ludicrous and unrealistic. Most people need to gain lots of life experience, put their skills into practice and actually explore multiple careers before they know what they like, and even then, we are constantly changing and adapting as we learn more about the world and ourselves.

Remember how I said that I'm a J and there's nothing I love more than planning, structure and organization? And remember how I said that it means I love control and really suck at dealing with the unknown? Well even though these hold true for nearly every aspect of my life, I'm now going to tell you that I don't believe in trying to plan out my career. 

I used to. In fact, I started with a plan. When I was 18, I just knew I was going to be the Editor-in-Chief of People Magazine someday. Only, when I was 20, I laughed at that plan and said, that was silly because I just know I'm going to be the CEO of The Walt Disney Company. And then, seven years later, that plan flew out the window too. I never planned to move to Philadelphia. I never planned to get laid off, to start my own business or to become a career coach. Circumstances changed, I changed, and no matter how much I planned, I didn't see any of these things coming. Yet they did, and each of them brought valuable learnings and lessons to my life.

When I look at the careers of my friends, I see similar stories. My brilliant friend Tausha started her career at a large media conglomerate, and if you spoke to her then, she probably would have told you the entertainment industry was where she wanted to stay. But fast forward 10 years, an international Master's and a highly-successful travel blog later (it's called The Globe Getter...check it out!), and Tausha finds herself working in the travel division of a large organization in the financial services industry. Could she have guessed this would happen, or that the results would align in such a perfect pairing of her strengths and passions? Nope.

Then there's my friend Lauren. She started as a media planner at a small agency - a job that she hated. She also spent some time working for a large hotel, and almost by accident, wound up joining a huge online corporation in ad sales. As the years passed, she wound up moving into training and development roles, and now she's on the cusp of (yet another) massive promotion that'll put her in charge of things she never dreamed she'd be running.

The truth is that I speak to so many people as a career coach who feel terrible and lost because they've wandered off the plan they set for themselves, whether that plan was set based on their college major or something they dreamed up later in their career. Something happens that triggers a change, and they find that they're no longer passionate about, or inspired by, the work they do. These people come to me and tell me they feel broken or like they're betraying themselves, because all of a sudden their life is pushing them in a direction they hadn't planned. We're so conditioned to believe that we have to choose one, single career and pursue it with gusto for 45 years that when a kink reveals itself, rather than being trained to embrace it, we feel fear, guilt and shame.

We're well-intentioned with the plans we make, and we've been taught by employers who love to ask where we see ourselves in 5, 10 or 15 years that these details hold importance. But for many people, expertly-crafted and detailed ideas of the "path" your career will take can turn out to be harbingers of rigidity or negative feelings that don't serve you.

When I think about my career, I've found that learning to let go of my desire to over-engineer has provided me with a rush of freedom. Instead of focusing on what's next, I'm focusing on what's now. I'm taking energy I was wasting on worry and devoting it to making my present day fulfilling, rewarding and a learning experience. Ultimately, I believe that those actions will guide me toward the "right" next step in my career, when I'm ready to take that step.

Before we go, I want to make sure one thing is clear: By me saying that I no longer "plan" my career, I'm not implying or suggesting that plans and goals are a lost cause. Setting goals and creating a vision are hallmark coaching techniques, and for many people, the mere act of thinking about where they see themselves can put them on a trajectory toward making their vision a reality. Rather, my point is that our goals and plans change, so trying to figure out your whole life at 21, or make decisions with long-range goals in the back of your mind could back-fire if you don't remain flexible and open to opportunities that arise unexpectedly.

I say go on, set goals, and if you want to, continue to make plans. Just recognize that if you wake up one morning and your goal needs to change, it doesn't mean you're confused, lost or broken. It means you're human, and it means you've grown. And that's something to embrace.

Gabrielle "Gabby" Bill is a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. She coaches groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to their career. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more about her services by visiting www.gabriellebill.com