To the Grad Class of 2015: Don’t Rely on Planning

gradMy oldest daughter is graduating from university in a few short weeks. She’s planning for the future. Her mother and I, being practical parents, have instilled this need for planning in her. It’s what practical people do. They make plans.

I, 32 years ago, on my own graduation date – also made plans. According to my plan, I should now be a senior producer on a national Canadian TV drama. This is, of course, after working my way up as a production assistant, writer and possibly a director. But, as Helmuth von Moltke said, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” In my case, the enemy were the vagaries of real life. Oh – and a little thing called the Internet. In 1983, who’d have guessed that one?

In 1983, my friends in college also had plans. As far as I can tell, only one of them actually had life go somewhat according to plan. He’s the 6 o’clock news anchor in a major Canadian city. The rest of us, as near as I can figure, were pretty much blown around by the winds of fate. Not that this is a bad thing. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t have traded one minute of my digital marketing career for my planned career in television.

The thing is, the world changes too fast to rely on our plans. There is no way we can forecast what’s to come. For those of you who were also making plans in the 80’s, could you have possibly imagined the world we now live in? The fun of life is in discovering new opportunities we couldn’t have possibly foreseen and grasping them. In 1983, the only people who had heard of the Internet were the National Science Foundation and a few university professors. But, just a decade later, it opened a door for me that would in turn lead to an entirely new career.

That was then. This is now. If the world changed that much in the last three decades, just imagine how much it will change in the next three. Somewhere out there is the next Internet – an exponential technology that will wipe out entire industries and start new ones. Keep your eyes open for it. And when you see it, look at it as an opportunity to grow, not as a threat to your plans.

There’s an important distinction here. I’m not saying don’t plan. Planning forces you to think about the future, and that’s always a good thing. Just don’t rely on them. Be prepared to change as required.

I’m always amazed by how our lives are changed by fate. Sudden little detours get thrown in our path that forces a change of direction. And, when we look back, we realize that those little detours made all the difference. For example, I was fired from a job. It was certainly not planned. But as a result, I moved, met my wife, started a family and eventually launched a new career. Yet, at the time, it seemed that my plan for life was blown to pieces. Today, I realize it may be the single best thing that every happened to me.

In talking to my daughter and others of her generation, it seems that they get the uncertainty of the world far better than we did. Maybe it’s because they grew up in a more fluid, dynamic environment. They seem to understand that life is a series of course adjustments and corrections. When my generation graduated, we planned for a life-long career. My daughter is planning, but the plan doesn’t extend past the next year or so, at which time she’ll recalibrate. This tends to frustrate parents, but it’s probably a much more realistic view of the world.

I also realized, as I discussed post-secondary learning with my daughters, that our model of education is hopelessly locked into an outdated view of the future. It’s probably because it’s been created by a generation of linear thinkers and planners. You go to school, you get your degree, and then you go start your career. Wouldn’t it make sense to take a more iterative approach to education, turning it into a lifelong support platform for a constantly evolving plan? You go live your life, and when you take a change of course that requires more learning, you can do so easily and on your own agenda.

My advice for the Class of 2015? Plan if you must. But become a lifelong seeker of opportunity. Leave your options fluid enough to respond to fate. And realize that someday, your life will be defined by the things you never anticipated rather than by the plans you made.

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