blog article on career myth versus a 5 year plan

The Career Myth starred in a recent Harvard Business Review article which picked up on something career specialists have known for a long time. The 5-Year Plan, on the other hand, has slipped from view and fallen from favour.

Just what is the Career Myth? Do you suffer from it? Does it matter if you do?

And how does it compare with the 5-Year Plan? Is there a winner here?

Harsh but correct

The Career Myth is the belief that you will climb the career ladder easily and smoothly, with incremental chances for career advancement along with raises and title changes. The authors of the HBR article call it ‘a delusional belief in the outdated idea of linear career progression.’

Careers experts have long talked about the death of the straight-line career path. Instead, they refer to Chaos Theory or the Career Jungle Gym or even Career Crazy Paving. The authors of the HBR article embrace this theme and offer loads of excellent advice to counter the Career Myth.

Among other things, they advise that you accept uncertainty by changing roles, or even industries, without a final destination in mind. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was one of the contributors and she stresses that there are various ways to get to the top, and some of them involve descending or hitting a dead end. As outlined in her famous book Lean In, Sandberg once replied to a friend who asked whether she should accept a lower level job in a fast growing company, ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.’ 

Avenue to the future

Yet, all this talk of chaos theory and butterflies in the Amazon does not mean that there is not a time and a place for the old-fashioned 5-Year Plan. In fact, the Plan is a technique that allows you to more easily achieve contentment in the midst of our crazy-paving career world.

There is no conflict between the Plan and the current career recommendation to be skilled, alert and self-aware so that you can take advantage of opportunities as they arise. The 5-Year Plan comes into play when you are not sure if the opportunities placed in front of you are going to make you happy.

You should see the look of relief on my clients’ faces when I explain how it works and how it can help their immediate (and hopefully) long term decision-making! It may be old-fashioned but boy it’s powerful.

So, using the famous 5 Ws and 1 H approach slightly out of order, here’s an explanation of a Career 5-Year Plan.


There are many times in your career when you come to a turning point:

  1. Your job may have suddenly disappeared and you quickly need another
  2. You may realise that you dislike some or all of the following: your work tasks, your colleagues, your workplace, your salary
  3. You may have multiple job options to consider
  4. You may just feel lost in your career

These turning points are inevitably stressful periods where you often worry whether you might regret the choice that you eventually make.


If you have a ‘significant other’ in your life, it’s critical that you work on the Plan together. In the absence of such a person, you will need to complete the analysis and follow-up work on your own.


Take yourself off the grid to envisage your future. Avoid sterile environments such as your office: staring at four walls is not likely to evoke deep feelings. Find a place that is likely to inspire you – a wonderful coffee shop with evocative music, under the shade of a majestic tree or simply plonk yourself down on the sand at your favourite beach.


The starting point of the Plan is to clearly articulate what you want your life to look like in 5 years’ time. Delve into all elements of life that are important to you. Here are just some of the major elements you might consider:

  • Financial situation
  • Lifestyle assets (caravans, boats)
  • Intimate relationships
  • Family relationships
  • Learning, from structured study to new hobbies
  • Spirituality
  • Community
  • Health
  • Leisure


Do it as soon as possible. Once you have identified what you want your life to look like in 5 years’ time, you can use this information to plot your next career move. Working backwards, you can clearly see how many career moves will lead you to your envisaged future.


Once you have envisaged your future, the next step is to use Visualisation. Now, this field is totally outside of my area but I do know that most successful Olympic athletes incorporate this technique into their preparation to perform at their peak. If you wish to know more, either do some research or else consult an expert Lifestyle Coach to help you.

Here is what I’ve managed to find out about the technique.

1. Go somewhere quiet…

  • Close your eyes and think of the desired goal
  • Take several deep breathes

2. Visualise the situation…

  • Clearly and with as much detail as you can
  • Add emotion, feeling and senses to your vision

3. Practise…

  • Twice a day for about 10 minutes each time
  • Persevere until you succeed


Once you have envisioned your desired future and incorporate Visualisation, it unlocks the amazing capacity we all have within ourselves to attain it. Your antennae pop up on high alert. You notice and then are able to take advantage of attractive options. 

As a career specialist, what I like about the 5-Year Plan is that you can then work backwards to choose your next career move. 

Sometimes, the very next job that you select will allow you to move seamlessly to your envisaged future. Sometimes, it will take two moves to get there. If this means that your next job is not ideal, the fact that you can see its connection with your desired future helps you to hold on psychologically: you can see that there is a clear end in sight.


Of course, once you are in this new job, things may well change and this is where the Chaos Theory approach to careers comes back into play.

The bottom line? 

Modern career advice will tell you to:

  • stay alert
  • keep up to date with modern workplace requirements and norms
  • be self aware
  • be open to non-linear opportunities 

(Whew, that’s a lot to take on board! Thriving in the world of work really is tough these days.)

There’s a time for fluidity and flexibility but there is also time for forethought. There is still a place for an envisaged future and a plan to attain it. Especially when you know that you’re not happy at work and you just don’t know what to do about it.

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