An Agile Approach to Life and Career Planning

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You can’t plan your whole life out. It’s just not possible.

In his book Stumbling on Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert makes the point again and again that humans are consistently bad at predicting what will make us happy.

Isn’t that funny? We’re simply bad at anticipating in the present what we’ll want and what will make us happy in the future.

So even if you could plan out your entire life without any unexpected twists and turns, you’d have created a stagnant map to a moving target.

This is something I keep coming back to when it when it comes to career planning and your life’s work. For most people, your life’s work doesn’t change very much, but what will change is how you go about making that impact. You can say that your work is about helping people in a certain way, but you can’t necessarily be sure how you’ll go about doing that work 10 years from now.

Some of the difficulty in predicting and career planning is that at this moment you only know what’s possible at this very moment. Possibilities open and close in sets. What’s available and even imaginable to you right now is based on where you are and what you’ve been exposed to.

A recent study on successful entrepreneurs has shown that innovation is much more effective than market research and planning. In fact, they believe in the uncertainty of the future and know that they can’t predict it in any way.

Every step forward and every new experience opens another door into what you can imagine as possible.

There will be new possibilities available to you in the future that you can’t even imagine at this moment. How could you effectively plan for them?

You can’t.

The point of this work— of discovering more of what you have to give and the places that are most meaningful — is not to know every step of the journey, but to know the direction that you are made to travel.

Developing the ability to adapt and change is essential to gracefully finding your way in life and work. [tweet that]

What Does Agile Planning Mean?

In project management, as in software development, you call an approach like this agile. To do “agile project management” means that you’re always ready and willing to shift and change as needed. When you start a project, you only know about the intended outcome and cannot predict the obstacles that will present themselves along the way.

To take an agile approach is to know that the obstacles will shape the product and the process in ways that you cannot predict ahead of time.

In software this means that you release more versions more often and collect feedback from testers and users that determine what the next features set should be. This is in stark contrast to the former approach of creating a robust application with features that people don’t want and won’t use.

While an agile approach is becoming more and more common in business and tech, people seem to be resistant to it on a personal level. We prefer a concrete plan. We want answers. We want black and white. We want career maps and life plans.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your stance), you are not stagnant. Who you are is always growing and stretching. You’re always in the process of becoming. And so is your work.

Embrace the fact that obstacles will shape your career and process in ways that you cannot predict ahead of time.

You cannot predict today where you will be in 10 to 20 years. You especially cannot predict exactly how you’ll get there.

Learn to be agile. Learn to roll with the punches. You don’t need a map or a plan set in stone. You need a direction. Once you have that, the only thing left is to take the next step.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

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