Don’t Let Forrest Gump Be Your Career Planning Model

I really enjoy the movie, Forrest Gump. In this Academy Award winning film, actor Tom Hanks portrays a seemingly simple man who experiences extraordinary things along his path in life. You might say he had an incredible string of circumstances putting him in the right place at the right time.

Part of what made the movie interesting was the ability of Hollywood filmmakers to place Hanks into well-known scenes from American life:

  • Breaking down racial barriers at university of Alabama
  • Playing Football under the famous Bear Bryant
  • Meeting presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon

Most of us do not have a string of circumstances putting us in the right place at the right time. Most of us don’t have editors who can put us in some magical place where everything goes to plan.

And “plan” is the key word here.

Today, I am going to suggest three things that you can do in the next two weeks to make sure you have a plan. Without a plan, your actions will get you somewhere, but is that somewhere the place you wanted to go?

I’m not talking about a detailed life plan, which some people do have, that defines every move we make in life. Some of us may have had specific goals in specific time frames, but toward what end? Or toward what milestone?

I am talking about a simple plan for your next two jobs.

There are three things you need to do –

First, write down a five year and a ten year career goal. If you intend to be president of a business that grosses $100 million a year, or if your goal is to be a recognized leader of others, or perhaps to be published for a technical specialty that you are developing, write it down.

If you haven’t done this before, it may feel intimidating. You might feel you don’t deserve that level of success or the acknowledgements you are setting as a goal. And if you feel you don’t deserve it, you most certainly won’t get there. A plan is worth making if the goal is worth achieving. Let me ask you this question: What have you spent more time planning in the last five years – your career or your vacations? This is a trick question, because vacation planning can actually take quite a bit more time than career planning! And yet many of us do not do the simpler of these two tasks.

Second – identify your capability gaps between who you are now and what you said you want to achieve. If your goal is to get published, do you know the topic and have you already established yourself as an expert? If not then you better think this through now! How big is the gap?

If your goal had something to do with leadership in the workplace, what’s the difference between the skills you bring to that effort today compared to the most effective leader you know? Do you lead others, either as their team leader or as their project leader? Is someone offering you feedback on a regular basis, and are you polishing your leadership style?

During this second step, you might discover that you can’t get there from here. That your current role, or even your current company, are not places where you can grow to the desired capability. That might be good to know if you are trying to close the gap. It is also a reality that many people avoid because knowing that requires them to take action. And that kind of action is difficult.

The third thing you need to do – enlist someone to bring some objectivity to the discussion. This could be a trusted team leader, your spouse or partner, a good friend, or a mentor that you have relied on in the past. You need to have someone who can look you in the eye and tell you if you are being realistic of not. Someone who knows not only what you can do, but your capability to challenge the status quo and make some decisions to change.

Like other tough topics – losing weight or quitting smoking – this kind of work is done best with an accountability partner. Someone who you feel can push you when you are getting a bit lazy, or can remind you of the goal. Don’t hesitate to include someone in your plan.

That’s it. Take some time in the next two weeks to do these three things, and then write and execute the plan.

Write down your goal, identify your gaps, and enlist help.

While Forrest Gump was an interesting character, the chances of your life accidentally happening in such a series of coincidences in unlikely.

2 Responses to Don’t Let Forrest Gump Be Your Career Planning Model

  1. This is interesting Tim. We spend a lot of time in our survivorship workshop talking about setting goals and developing plans. It’s interesting how many people have never set goals and never even thought about setting goals. We also talk about having 5 and 10 year goals as well as setting goals in different areas of your life – career, hobby, artistic, interpersonal, etc. Once people think about it and begin the process, they start to appreciate it much more. We’ve had numerous people come back and talk about their goals and things they achieved. It’s great to see people achieve more than they ever thought they could.

Leave a reply