“If you don’t have a plan for yourself, you’ll be part of someone else’s.”
– American Proverb
I saw Go when it came out in 1999. It is one of my favorite movies, mostly because it reminds me of what it felt like, to me, to be a twenty-something.
In the movie, Ronna is trying to make some extra money to pay her rent and agrees to work an extra shift at the grocery store for Simon on Christmas Eve so he can celebrate in Las Vegas. While she is working at the cash register, two guys looking for Simon ask Ronna whether she can score them some ecstasy. During the course of the evening, she comes close to getting arrested in a drug sting, shot by the drug dealer who thinks she duped him, and killed when she is run over by a car by the two guys who set her up.
In the end, Ronna is banged up but able to walk. She and her friends come out of their misadventures relatively unscathed and start making plans for New Year’s Eve. They could have ended up in prison or dead, but instead it was just another wild night.
Like Ronna, I worked at a grocery store in my early 20’s. I was paying my own way through college and the unionized jobs at the store paid much better than most part-time jobs.
I wasn’t a wanna-be drug dealer like Ronna, but I did go out to clubs and party. Doesn’t everyone? Isn’t that what you are supposed to do at that age? I certainly had my own misadventures, and I can think of more than a few nights where my life would have been altered significantly if things had taken a turn for the worse.
What I did not have at that age was a plan. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and because of that, I didn’t understand or appreciate that the thoughtless things I was doing could have had a significant impact on my future. Fortunately, looking back, I now know that I had luck on my side. But you can’t always count on that.
My friend Kevin, on the other hand, had a plan. He knew he was going to take over his father’s mortuary business and that we would be coming to him in the future after a loved one died. He handled both of my parents’ funerals. He was fun to be with, but he never did anything that could have been perceived as inconsistent with his future role as respected businessman and grievance counselor.
Most of us cannot see that far ahead. We aren’t sure what we want to do today, let alone for the rest of our lives. For those of you in your twenties, now is the time to explore the possibilities. To get you started, here are ten questions to ask yourself:
- What motivates you to do something (e.g., financial reward, approval of friends, desire to help someone)?
- Are you willing and able to take on financial risk or do you need a secure income?
- Are you willing and able to obtain the degree, license or certification needed for a particular job?
- Do you want to work at home or outside the home?
- Do you like working by yourself or in a group?
- Do you want to travel or stay in one place?
- Do you want a flexible schedule that could include nights and weekends or would you prefer a set schedule (e.g., 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday)?
- How can you turn what you like to do into paying work?
- Do you want to “work where you live” or “live where you work”?
- Who do you know that likes what they do?
The answers to these questions will give you some idea of the types of jobs you should consider. But remember this quote from Peter F. Drucker: “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”
Pick three jobs that you think would be a good fit for you and do some further research. Find and interview someone who does each of those jobs. Ask him or her what they like and don’t like about their job, how they got it, what training is needed, and what advice they have for you. Research whether there will be high or low demand for this type of job in the future when are looking for work, and how much the job typically pays when someone is first starting out. Look for a paid part-time job or unpaid internship in the field to get a first-hand look at what you would be doing.
Ultimately, a plan is simply a structure for finding and organizing useful information, and then crafting a course of action around it. Information may be power, but power deployed toward a purpose is far more productive than a random, directionless sizzle.