Always have a Plan B: Zoe Wundenberg

Life rarely goes to plan. I entered university planning to be a teacher after 18 years of making career goals that spanned Wendy’s Ice Cream maker, palaeontologist, and sports journalist. And after six years of university, here I am… a careers practitioner. This certainly hadn’t been my long-term plan.

You likely hear from many people in your life that a plan is crucial to achieving success in your career: it is still common to be asked about your ‘five-year plan’ at an interview where you are expected to be able to plot out your goals along a timeline that makes chronological sense as it demonstrates metered progressive ambition. Others will tell you that the labour market is so uncertain that jobs will exist in 10 years that haven’t even been conceptualised today so you should ‘wing it’ and take opportunities as they arise.

Perhaps surprisingly, both of these approaches are correct, in a way.

A key element to managing your career is your capacity for self-reflection. Now I realise that I have probably lost half of you at this point with the belief that I have stepped off the ‘decent scientific evidence train’ at ‘arty farty station’, but self-reflection is actually vital to our ability to maintain an evolving understanding of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats with regards to our progression. Essentially, we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and identify what we want to achieve in our lives and how we can achieve it. Setting career goals does not have to be divided by job-titled milestones. We can set our goal posts by whatever parametres we deem are appropriate to us.

Once we have this self-awareness and we can articulate our career goals, designing a plan to achieve them is a great way to clarify the journey that is ahead of us. This is our Plan A – aka our path to our prescribed future. At this point, we feel a little self-assured (if not slightly smug) about our career planning capabilities and we ‘know’ where we are headed, which gives us a sense of direction. For me, recruitment was Plan A.

Plot twist: I fell pregnant.

This is where the concept of ‘winging it’ and taking opportunities as they arise began to look quite favourable. However, rather than ‘winging it’ within an unstructured framework during my pregnancy, I developed a Plan B and realised that it was probably something that I should have had all along. The Plan B should be related to Plan A, where you can ‘pivot’ effectively using your existing network and transferable skills to create a new path that is not wholly unrelated, but alters your trajectory sufficiently to meet your changing needs. It was at this point that I began planning to start my business as a careers practitioner.

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha advise the additional need for a Plan Z and the power of the Plan Z is significant. This is your career ‘go bag’ – when it all goes down the drain and you need to bug out quickly, this is the room at your Mum’s house so you aren’t homeless, the job with your Dad’s company so you aren’t penniless and ultimately, the permission you need to throw yourself into your career plan and give it your all, knowing that if everything falls apart, you’ll still be ok.

So plan your career, but also plan for change – know when it’s time to pivot and when it’s time to bug out. The labour market is uncertain, but when uncertainty is in your career plan, the future can be an exciting prospect.

Zoe Wundenberg is the careers writer, counsellor and coach behind Impressability.