Yesterday my husband and I hosted a short workshop on Strategic Planning Basics for students. Having only fifty minutes or so, we had to plan ahead to make the most important points, and convey what we think are the ingredients of a successful strategic plan for your life. For me, the most memorable moment of the fifty minutes was Jim’s short explanation of financial management:
“If you get your checking account balance from the ATM, you are doing this wrong.”
In jobs and careers, we see people–not just students–get caught up in the elaborate rituals of interviews, networks, and resumes as the primary focus of creating a professional future. But placed on a shaky foundation of overdrafts, late rent, late nights in strange places, and relationship shambles, no interview will make up for underperformance on the basics. You have to plan to cover, and then actually cover, the fundamentals, before you do anything else.
We all have resources to mobilize and to capitalize on. Your professional credentials are only a fraction of what you bring to a career. Assets, resources, and attributes are the starting point for your personal plan; you have to know what you have in inventory, and then you have to manage your inventory as the investment it represents.
Here’s what we covered in fifty minutes or so:
1. Pay your bills on time, live within your means, purchase health insurance, get an annual physical, and maintain an organized household. Even if your household is one fourth of a tiny student apartment, it is still your household. Make sure it is clean, safe, and in good repair at all times, as it reflects your decisions and your choices.
2. Think about your life as a time management exercise. You only have a few years to build a foundation of experience and a platform of knowledge and expertise, and figure out what you want. In the next phase are your prime earning and flourishing years, where you prepare for either your next career, if you plan to have more than one, or your retirement, if you plan to have one of those. Everyone and every life is different and your phases, plans, and priorities are your own choice. Remember, though, that your energy and capacity have varying limits throughout your life, and you can’t do everything all at once without taxing your strength. Spread your plans out across your life.
3. Make sure that all your relationships are cordial, at minimum. Avoiding people is way more difficult than it is worth, and no one enjoys the drama that comes with people who clearly don’t care to be in the same room with each other. You will have access to way more rooms if you are gentle with others, even if you don’t wish to be friends with them.
4. Take an active part in the world; take risks and chances that might lead to good things for your family, your community, and your future. You will get rejected from time to time, but if you are honorable and sincere you will be heard and remembered, and most certainly appreciated for your attempts.
5. Learn to soothe yourself and solve the basic problem when things don’t go your way. When we can’t rest, our stress leads to dysfunction. When you have to juggle a flaming baton along with the usual balls we all have in play, you run the risk of sending something valuable up in smoke. We all take on a flaming baton or two from time to time, sometimes there is no choice; stuff shows up. The job is to solve the problem as best you can, and move forward.
On the subject of the ATM, here’s the issue: the ATM belongs to the bank, and the info might not be accurate, reliable, or timely. You cannot rely on anyone else to provide you with a status update on anything, though comparing notes with your chosen institutional partner may be helpful. To be successful, you should be at least one step ahead of the question about what you have, not be the one who is asking it of anyone else.