Plans Are Made to Be Broken: Why It's OK Not To Follow Your 5 Year Plan / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

It's okay to take a detour and veer off your anticipated career path -- you may end up in a better position than you planned.

One of the leading questions that employers ask in any interview is “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Naturally, during the interview process, the obvious answer is to state that you see yourself excelling at the company in question. But do you ever share your actual five-year plan?

Is your five-year plan actually the right plan for you at the time? Is it a plan that will come to fruition?

Related Article: How Entrepreneurs Should Answer the Dreaded "5 Year Question"

Three 5-Year Plans, and Counting

Before beginning my career in marketing, I went to theatre school. I wanted to direct immersive performances, and in all honesty, I still do. In fact, I recently spent my Master’s degree researching the intersection between live performance engagement practices and digital marketing engagement practices.

When I was completing my Bachelor’s degree, my five-year plan consisted of bartending part-time, while writing and rehearsing original plays in my spare time. Once I graduated I panicked and decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Digital Media. I wasn’t sure if I had enough knowledge to effectively create innovative theatre. It was important that what I did was unique and a step above the norm. A degree in the field of technology would be able to teach me skills that I could later apply to live performance that hadn’t been done before. This had become the new and improved five-year plan.

However, things changed yet again. I landed myself a position in Digital Marketing. Telling myself that I would only remain at the company for a year to save up some money, and later continue on the path to becoming the most innovative theatre director of all time gave me comfort.

Once again, things changed and I began to learn and grow at Venngage and found out that I had skills elsewhere other than theatre. I could apply my knowledge of performance art to a new field. Currently, part of my five-year plan includes remaining in this position, but working towards growing the company and expanding its reach, with the possibility of building a new business with my colleagues.

The point I am trying to make is that a five-year plan is typically a tactic for envisioning and setting goals. Sometimes while treading down one path, we find ourselves in front of another that may appear more promising, and sometimes that path is simply a minor detour that will eventually lead back to the main route. Every goal we create is often interrupted by an obstacle, but what we have been conditioned to believe is that obstacles are bad and cause problems. The truth is that not all obstacles are bad.

Obstacles: The Good vs. the Bad

The reason many people do not stay true to their five-year plans is because they find themselves facing a roadblock. These roadblocks present themselves in many forms, however, the most common are physical, emotional and spiritual obstacles which generally comprise of the following factors as depicted in the infographic chart below:

Related Article: 11 Best Tools for Setting and Tracking Goals

Infographic Chart Venngage

The word obstacle is typically defined as something that blocks or hinders progress, so it’s not always easy to defend such a phenomena as “good” or “positive”, but it all comes down to perspective. Naturally for many people, a financial issue will place them in a position of utter desperation.

Depending on the individual, there are two possible outcomes or ends of the spectrum- they can hit rock bottom and reach a point where they depend on borrowing and stealing or simply give up altogether, and the other end is that their pride combined with survival instinct kicks in, forcing the person to think creatively and work their way out of their financial low-point.

How many times have you come across an article entitled, “What losing all of my money taught me about making money”? The main takeaway here is that obstacles provide us with a very valuable tool: knowledge.

After all, isn’t the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t from looking back to one’s own experiences?

Keeping an Open Mind

Five-year plans are what help keep us rooted and grounded. They give us a sense of purpose, ambition and determination, but there are times when it’s ok to stray from the path or avoid it all together.

Sometimes we are faced with obstacles that open our minds and provide us with new ideas of what might make us happy. Sticking to a five-year plan can quickly hinder our desire and ability to take on challenges or jump on opportunities that could shape a better future for ourselves. You might miss out on meeting new people, traveling and experiencing a different culture or finding the love of your life if your vision is too focused and narrow.

I had a goal of becoming a director for plays, which pivoted to becoming a director for immersive performances, which eventually actualized into becoming the director of marketing for an infographic tool. Just because I haven’t reached my goal of producing immersive performances yet, doesn’t mean that what I am doing now will prove useless in the long run. Obstacles and pivots provide us with knowledge that we did not have before, which in turn shapes our perspective of what we are capable and willing to do in the future.

Just because I haven’t reached my goal of producing immersive performances yet, doesn’t mean that what I am doing now will prove useless in the long run. Obstacles and pivots provide us with knowledge that we did not have before, which in turn shapes our perspective of what we are capable and willing to do in the future.

Related Article: Tips for Long-Term Success in a Continuously-Changing Business Landscape

If you have a five-year plan, stick to it if you can. But if you find that you’re not where you thought you would be, don’t sweat it. Learn what you can from the opportunities that come your way and apply that knowledge to shaping future goals.

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