Whenever I tell young interns this, they seem incredulous, and typically tell me that they are having a hard enough time figuring out what they want to do over the next five years, let alone twenty years. But there is a very good reason for having a 20-year plan. A 20-year plan is really the length of a well-thought-out career, and therefore, if you are looking to plan a meaningful career, you will need to think about it in a 20-year time frame.
This is in no way at odds with the fact that most professionals change jobs or positions on average every five years. A job is not a career. A job is simply a place of employment with defined roles and responsibilities. In designing a career, you should be looking at it as a life’s project, and it having a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning of your career provides you with the knowledge and expertise you will need to be successful in your mid-career. And mid-career experience provides you with the foundations to build your legacy in your late career.
The objection I hear most often to creating a 20-year plan is that “I might change my mind about my career direction as I go along.” Actually, you will most likely change your mind as you go along, and you should make a point of taking stock each year about whether or not your 20-year plan still makes sense. But the planning process is still very useful.
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