Too many people fall into this psychological trap when building their careers

Man think thinking wonder confused

Thinking about the future — an ability scientists say is uniquely human — can be a great thing.

It prevents you from indulging in a second piece of cake even though you want it now and from telling your boss how you really feel about his management style. Which is helpful because, in presuming that future you doesn’t want to be overweight and/or unemployed, you’re probably right.

But in other cases, your guesses about how the future you feels about life can be pretty far off the mark. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert attributes these misses to the “end of history illusion“: We think that we’re done changing and growing and that what makes us happy today will make us equally happy in the future.

Jenny Blake refers to Gilbert’s research (without naming him specifically) in her new book, “Pivot,” as an example of why planning for your long-term professional future can backfire. Specifically, she says five-year plans are useless because we have little idea what will make us happy and fulfilled five years from now.

Planning to pursue a Ph.D. program in biology because that’s what you studied in college? Or to hold a C-suite position at your current company? Well, don’t be surprised if, after half a decade, you no longer want those things.

Blake is a career coach and former Googler; “Pivot” is a guide to making a career change, however big or small. A key part of making that change, according to Blake, is — instead of a five-year plan — a one-year vision.

Consider the one-year vision, Blake writes, as “an alluring invitation from your future self.”

“Imagine that it is one year from today and you have achieved wild success,” she says. “Describe in the present tense what you are doing, how you are feeling, and what you are proud of. Be as detailed and creative as you can.”

If you’re unsure where to start, Blake gave some suggestions when she visited the Business Insider office in September:

  • What does my ideal average day look like?
  • How do I want to feel?
  • What kinds of people do I want to be connected with or meeting?
  • What kind of impact do I want to make?
  • If you knew you could speak at a TED conference and your talk would be seen by a million people what kind of message would you want to send?

The key is to be as specific as possible about what success looks like for you. Every year, you can craft a new statement.

A second, highly practical reason why five-year plans aren’t so helpful is that technology and the economic landscape is changing at a rapid pace, Blake says. There could be job openings in industries you’ve never even heard of today.

Of course, even with a one-year vision, there’s no guarantee that you’ll achieve exactly what you aspire to. But Blake said that’s ok:

“Whether or not you hit the one-year vision precisely doesn’t really matter. But you’re anchoring in something compelling and exciting. And that’s what carries us through the lowest moments of our pivots.”

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