Have a plan, be flexible

As the focus for this month’s business journal is college prep and career planning, I am reminded of my English teacher for my senior year at Tupelo High School, Dr. Marilyn Monroe. In addition to the many books and plays we read and essays we wrote, Dr. Monroe asked us to write a letter to ourselves that she would mail to us five years after we left her class. If I remember correctly, the instructions were to tell our future selves where we thought we would be at that time. I can remember this being a daunting task as I couldn’t imagine what I’d be doing in five years. Certainly, I had plans, but I’d never been asked to be held accountable to them. There was also the “fear factor” of what if I was wrong.

There’s a quote from a John Lennon song that I use a lot: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” So, I needn’t have worried that I would not be where I thought I should be in five years. Dr. Monroe was encouraging us to find a direction, not complete an assignment.

Many things can happen over a span of five years. Technology changes a lot. Directions can change too. The key to any journey is the flexibility to examine other avenues while keeping an eye on the destination. I won’t reveal how many times I changed my major in college, but I will say that my degree is from another university than the one I first entered. I saw an opportunity and took advantage of it, and I am very grateful for the knowledge I gained and the friendships I formed for having that flexibility. So, it didn’t matter that my letter to myself wasn’t accurate. It showed me where I had been and helped me see how I got to where I am.

I am fortunate that I serve on advisory committees at both Itawamba Community College and Northeast Mississippi Community College. I’m grateful for these institutions for asking for input from members of the community to keep these courses relevant to those who will be hiring their graduates. Our neighbors near Oxford and Starkville are also keeping current for their graduates. Relevancy is necessary.

My business is constantly changing too. While the fundamentals are the same, what worked a few years ago may not work as well today. I do my best to stay on top of trends and keep connected in the marketplace. Whereas the business I joined was more advertising related, today we are much more marketing focused. We are much less of an “ad agency” and more “marketing consultants.” It’s just as rewarding.

“Where will you be in five years?” It’s a great question. It is one that is constantly on my mind. Life happens. Things change. Am I headed in the right direction? Should I take the road “less traveled by” as Robert Frost put it (as I learned in 11th grade English from Bonnie Webb)? Some of the business tools that I used when I first started aren’t being used today. Others have evolved.

Have a plan. Write it down. In pencil. Be ready to change it if necessary.

Here’s how to start. What do you want to do? Who do you know who has experience in what you want to do so that you can ask questions and learn more? Where is the education for this offered? Are you willing to travel or relocate? Is work available for you in the industry that you’re interested in so that you can gain real-world experience while you get educated? Are you committed to the work that you’ll have to do to get the work you want?

Learning happens every day whether it is a traditional educational environment or simply having a conversation with friends. Sharing of ideas and information is important. Knowing your vision and the vision of others is important.

It is much easier to look back five years and think “I wish I had known this” than it is to look forward five years thinking “Where will I be?”

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” according to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. It takes one step after another to make the journey. Sometimes the path goes in unexpected directions. Keep making the journey.

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