Friday, 15 August 2014

You Need A Plan - Or At Least 12% Of One

So, you find yourselves at a crossroads. Except it's not so much a crossroads, as it is the heart of a labyrinth, and not only do you not have a map, you have to be out by nightfall. You know where you are, and you know where you want to be, but you don't know which path to take, and time is ticking away.

I may have overextended the metaphor.

That's essentially how I felt after leaving University. I had a solid idea of the sort of jobs I wanted, but no real idea how to translate the skills and experience I'd been accumulating for the past three years into gainful employment. Perhaps, like me, you've just left – or are about to leave – University. Maybe you've spent the last few years working instead, and now you've a good idea of the sort of roles and industries you enjoy, you want to switch from paying the bills to pursuing a career. You may even be going in the opposite direction! After spending a few years in employment you may feel like you're just treading water, and now you're wondering if a degree will prepare you to re-enter the workforce, reinvigorated and ready to break through to the next level.

If you're anything like me, it's one hell of an overwhelming place to be in your life.

Not, like, Kristen Stewart overwhelmed. Like, real overwhelmed.

It's so difficult to know where to start, and so easy to make a misstep. Personally, the fear of making a wrong decision often prevents me from making any decision at all. What if I hate this job? What if I love it, but I don't get the experience I wanted? All the time invested in that job would be wasted. I could try a vocational course, but what if I decide I don't enjoy it? What if it doesn't actually help me find a job? Time and money down the drain.

What helped me to tackle this – and what could help you too – is a plan. A map for the labyrinth of life, if you like. So, sit down with a pen and paper, and think: This is where I want to be in a year – how do I get from here to there? Lay it all out, in the simplest of terms. By the time I turn 25, I want to be ready to make the move to London. So, I'll need money to support myself, which means I need to start saving. However, once I'm in London, I'll need to earn money, too. I'll need to find a job, and to be reasonably certain of managing that I'll need experience.

Fortunately, I can be accumulating both of those at the same time.

I need to find a job, then. What sort of job? I don't want to move to London just to clean toilets – so what do I want to do? I've known for a long time that I want to get into the writing industry – either as a writer myself, or on the publishing side of things.

Now we're getting somewhere! I know I need a job, and I know what sort of job I want. I'm still a ways off employment, though. What sort of experience do I need to get, then? Well, administrative experience – or anything office-based, really – would be useful. Now I've worked that out, those “is this really the right job...?” doubts don't nag too much; after all, it doesn't matter too much if it's not the ideal job, because it's only a stepping stone towards bigger and better things.

Hold up, though! I said I wanted to work in the writing industry, and experience of working in an office environment might be necessary, but it ain't sufficient to get me through the door. Actual writing experience could do it, though. How do I go about building a portfolio, and developing as a writer?

Hey – one of those 'blog' things might be a start...

It might seem like a comparatively minor thing, but a plan like that, laid out in plain black and white, can be a surprisingly powerful tool. It can keep you grounded when you're feeling overwhelmed; it can give you something to feel positive about when you feel like you're treading water; it can give you a clear list of tasks and objectives when you're feeling lost at sea.

A plan isn't the be-all and end-all but it is a step in the right direction, and lays out the path for future progress.

Oh, and in other news, I now write a book review for Yuppee Magazine. The Charity-Shop Book Review aims to bring to your attention all those overlooked treasures that wash up on charity-shop bookshelves, and updates on the first Tuesday of every month (so the first review – Annie Proulx's Close Range – is already up). Make sure to follow @DaneCurel as well, to be sure you aren't missing out on any other forgotten favourites.