What if I don’t have a career plan?

If the CEO of the Walt Disney Company gave you personal career advice, you’d probably listen, right? I once got the opportunity to ask him how he’d gotten to where he is, and was really surprised at the answer.

Now if we’re being honest, I’m just some nobody from regional Australia, so how on earth did I get to be in a room with the CEO of Disney? After finishing university, I applied for the Disney College Program (amazing experience, by the way). Along with 6 other participants, I was lucky enough to be chosen for a small sit-down with the leaders of Disney. I’m talking Tom Staggs, the guy who made the call to buy Marvel, Meg Crofton (president of Disney Parks at the time) and of course, Bob Iger, the CEO of the entire 48 billion dollar organisation.

That time I met the CEO of Disney and asked him a question

Bob talked about where the company had come from and where it was going, but what he really wanted was to talk with us and answer our questions. Naturally, we were terrified and had nothing to say at first. Then a question just popped out of my mouth.

The exact moment I asked my question and EVERYONE turned to look at me (grey shirt, brown ponytail)

“Did you always want to be the CEO of Disney?”

I thought that was a pretty legitimate question. If I could have any job in the world right now, it’d be a tough choice between Bob’s job and working in quality control at a Cadbury factory.

I figured this had to have been the guy’s dream job since birth and that he was one of those people who’d doggedly worked his way through a well-organised plan to success. Boy was I wrong!

Iger basically told us that he’d started in a subsidiary company that Disney had bought. He’d never had a conscious intention of becoming the head of the whole organisation, things had just happened and that was where he’d ended up. His whole career approach boiled down to this:

“Show up, do a great job and be ready when opportunity appears.”

As a career plan, how cool is that?

It certainly made 20 year-old me feel better. Up til that point I’d been freaking out, trying to work out my five and ten year career plans to get where I wanted to be. The biggest problem was, I didn’t know where I wanted to be, and that terrified me.

Some people know what they want, others don’t.

You know how some people just seem to ‘know’ what they’re meant to do with their lives? At 8 years old, they decide they want to be doctors, astronauts and dolphin trainers and then they go out and do it.  

That definitely wasn’t me. I struggled through subject selection at school (honestly, who knows enough about what they want to do for the rest of their lives to make a decision in grade 10 about which science they’ll need to take?), I picked a relatively broad uni degree in business and psychology and since then have been bumping from roles as a Chemistry tutor and a cartoon character to a travel agent and a recruiter.

I used to be jealous of those people; it seemed like they never had to stress about whether they were following their true calling. They never second guessed themselves, and when it came time to look for a new job, they could just type in the name of what they do, rather than sift through everything that was out there.

You don’t have to be jealous of those people

Thinking back to that day in the Disney conference room though makes me feel a little better. In every random job I’ve done, I’ve always shown up and done my best and things have been pretty good so far. I have loved all my jobs, and whatever I do next, I know that the skills and knowledge I’ve picked up from those jobs is going to help me to be amazing at my next role.

I probably shouldn’t be saying all this, since I’m sitting here giving career advice to other people starting out, but it’s important to know that the vast majority of us don’t have a career plan, and that’s ok.

Many of us don’t have a unique calling that defines who we are and what we want to be. Maybe we’ll try a few different things. Maybe we’ll try a lot. Maybe some will work out, and maybe some won’t. Your career is exactly that; YOUR career.  You live it, every day, and while there are some things in the future you can control, the rest will happen whether you plan for it or not.

So you may as well have some fun with it, right?

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