At this time of year, many people are heading to lakes, ponds, beaches, and pools, perhaps toting their mobile devices, and booting up a frothy beach read or two, or an intellectual nonfiction bestseller.
If you’re one of them, either you’re doing everything you can to escape from work, or you’re doom-scrolling through work-related emails, perhaps not relaxing at all.
Consider this instead: Devote some time to brainstorming ideas for writing a personal development plan — even if you focus only on the next three-to-five years.
If you’re thinking, “Hah! Man plans, God laughs,” take another look at my photo with my byline: I’m old enough to know how true that saying is. I also know from experience that failing to plan is planning to fail.
Some people reading this will reply, “If only I had more time.” In fact, some of the leaders I work with confide they feel “self-indulgent” for taking time to write personal development plans that aren’t solely work-related. Without a long-term vision for what they want to achieve beyond their careers, they are putting their overall health at risk — physically, mentally, and financially.
My own experiences when I was working for frenetic-paced marketing agencies yielded hard-won lessons about the necessity for life planning. I was always on the run — eating badly, sleeping poorly, and never exercising. I was so busy running strategic plans for corporate clients that I never even thought to write one for myself.
Then, the year before I turned 40, the agency I was working for brought in a new general manager. I loathed him, as did many of my colleagues. Some of them started their own firms, but I stayed. As a senior manager, I felt empowered to denigrate every decision the new leader made.
A month after my 39th birthday, on July 19, I was fired. Though I landed another job quickly, I made sure that by the time I turned 40, I had written a personal development plan. In it, I detailed the goals regarding the people, places, and things my husband and I cared about that we wanted to achieve beyond our careers.
To be clear, a personal development plan was no guarantee that nothing bad would ever happen to me again — career-wise or otherwise. Still, the experiences and expertise I had gained in business, plus the discipline of working a plan, led me to a new career as a college business professor and my own consulting practice.
In the end, it really is all about you. Here are just a few other benefits to writing a personal development plan:
A written plan can help you see where you have flexibility to defuse a crisis. Many adults are thrust into mid-life crises because they have been doing the same thing the same way for so long that they can’t or won’t take action to change.
Planning your personal development will nudge you to consider dreams, desires, and priorities for achieving goals in several areas: personal, health, family, friends, finances, and leisure.
Since a plan involves specific actions, plus a timetable and short-term as well as long-term deadlines, it will focus your energy in the most effective way possible.
Planning helps you explore your values, principles, and ethics, as well as your strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities. If you don’t know what you stand for and what you won’t stand for, then your life will always be driven by someone else’s agenda.
If work you were good at for a long time is boring now, and someone a decade younger could do it faster and better, a personal development plan can help you deal with that and discover new options.
Following are valuable books I reference often in my work with organizations and their high-potential leaders, listed according to those I like best. Several have been bestsellers for decades; others are new bestsellers I recently discovered. Check online for summaries, content, downloadable samples, authors’ credentials, and writing style that would most appeal to you.
- “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” – Stephen R. Covey
- “StrengthsFinder 2.0” – Tom Rath
- “Write It Down, Make It Happen – Henriette Anne Klauser, PhD
- “How Will You Measure Your Life?” – Clayton M. Christenson
- “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices at Life and Work” – Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- “Atomic Habits” – James Clear
- “Four Thousand Weeks” – Oliver Burkeman
- “The Daily Stoic” – Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
- “Authentic Happiness” – Martin Seligman, PhD
- “A Whole New Mind” – Daniel H. Pink
- “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” – Daniel H. Pink
- “Flow” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- “What Color is Your Parachute for Retirement – John E. Nelson and Richard N. Bolles
- “The Artist’s Way” – Julia Cameron
- “Start with Why” – Simon Sinek
- “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
- “Career Distinction” – William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson
- “I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was” – Barbara Sher with Barbara Smith
- “Wishcraft” – Barbara Sher with Annie Gottlieb
- “Designing Your Life” – Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
I still cringe when I remember thinking that I was invincible and knew everything. The most important thing I learned from getting fired, plus trying to find fulfilling work during a recession, and then having to postpone everything because of a pandemic was that I could never function without a plan. Do it on purpose. Do it with pride. Have fun with it. After all, it’s all about you.
Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions, lizdimarcoweinmann.com.