For decades, we’ve been told to look at our educational and career development in a very linear, straight-forward manner. The path most of us have been encouraged to take starts with a college diploma. Occasionally, it included an advanced degree, but the path always ended with retirement after 30 or even 40 years at one company.
We can’t think this way anymore. The mix of economic downturns and market crashes over the past 15 years has let us know that the idea of job security that was once valued exists only for a select few today. With job security out of the window, many full-time workers are in combat mode, preparing for an epic battle to rise through the ranks and ready to jump ship in order to find better opportunities.
For the record, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, some might argue that this is the best way forward, but it does require good, thoughtful planning and execution.
In the Startup of You, Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman argue, “There is no beginning, middle, or end to a career journey; no matter how old you are or at what stage, you will always be planning and adapting.” They couple this point with the concept of ABZ planning. Without giving away all the goods, you can break ABZ planning down like this:
A. What you are currently doing?
B. What can you pivot to if you need to change your goal (or your strategy to achieve a goal)?
Z. What is our fall-back, (or where will you land should A and B fail)?
As long as your options for A, B and Z are things you are interested in, you can’t really go wrong. To build and execute an effective ABZ plan, there is one thing that you must have however: a diverse range of skills.
If you’re focused on job security, you run the risk of channeling all of your efforts into being good at just one thing. That’s great if you know that your position, company and market will be there forever, but how many of us can say that and be 100% sure? Feeling stuck in a position or function can be among the worst in the world, and just because you haven’t experienced it yet doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Financial advisers often encourage people to save enough money to cover expenses for six to eight months should you become unemployed. I would encourage you to take it a few steps further. Build a skills stockpile. Make an ABZ plan. Position yourself for the pivot.
James S. Walker (@jaywalk1) is a Washington, D.C.-based digital strategy and public relations manager, leading digital strategy creation and execution for a mix of corporate and nonprofit clients at APCO Worldwide. Intrigued by how social and cultural insights connect people on a global level, Walker has completed long-term project assignments in China and Mongolia, and chronicles his thoughts on the industry via his blog, PR Prescriptions, and Website, Socially Diverse.
If you seek career flexibility, you will be ready when the time is right.