AMY LINDGREN: Setting career plans for 2018

With a new year starting, it’s almost second nature to think about key areas of your life and imagine what the next 12 months might bring. Will there be changes in health? In income? In relationships you hold dear? In some cases, you may feel you know the answers, but other areas might be more mysterious.

If you believe the adage, “Man plans, God laughs,” then waiting to see how everything unfolds might be the most tempting path. It’s certainly the easiest. Just follow along with life to see what happens next and react the best you can when it does.

Of course, that’s not how most of us order our affairs. Even the most fatalistic among us is likely to fall for the two-year cable deal, or contribute to an IRA. Seeking control over the future might just be hard-wired for the human race.

If you want more control over your career, January is an excellent time to set your course. The month is nicely positioned after the holiday hubbub and the closing of fiscal records, leaving a pristine new calendar to be organize and dream over.

In the world of careers, there are commonly three or four areas that invite bigger-picture planning: Job search, career management, and retirement. You can toss in training or business development as “extra” categories, although they could also fit under the broader umbrella of career management.

Do you already have some goals in mind for the new year? Just in case, here’s a short checklist for each category.


-Start a job search or ramp up an existing job search

-Identify patterns or problems from recent efforts

-Confirm criteria for the next work: Income and location needed, for example

-Set timelines or interim goals to help check progress

-Seek out advisors or friends to help with the effort


-Decide: What is your career path?

-Explore: Is your career best followed by being an employee, or self-employed?

-If employed, organize conversations with your boss about your future

-If self-employed, create a plan for the year’s business efforts

-Identify training needed or skills to develop this year


-Decide when you will retire

-Explore options for how to retire: Completely? Partially? In combination with self-employment?

-Set your financial plan for retirement

-Review your options for retirement housing / location

-Connect with advisors to help make your plans concrete

Depending on your definition of “goal” and your natural pace for the process, you may notice that items on these lists could easily double as steps. To keep things straight, here’s a quick rundown on a typical goal-setting process:

1. Name the thing you want to achieve

2. Identify the steps needed to achieve it

3. Put the steps onto a timeline or calendar

4. Get started; troubleshoot or request help as needed

For some people, “Decide your career path” would be a step in a larger goal for, say, changing careers. But for others, naming a career path would be a major accomplishment of its own, capping months or years of introspection and effort. In each case, whether an item is a step for something larger, or a goal unto itself is a judgment best left to you. As long as you keep your eyes on the sequence of tasks – name it, break it into smaller steps, schedule the steps, ask for help – you’ll be succeeding in setting a course and making progress.

What if things don’t work out? That’s a fair question, and one that needs to be considered. You should expect some parts of your plans to falter – that just happens. You’ll need to evaluate in that case: Are your plans kaput, or just delayed or changed? Assuming the latter, the next step will be to identify what can still be salvaged, and which goals might need to be put on hold.

The key to success at this stage will lie in your resiliency. If you’re not normally a person who deals well with disappointment, you can hedge your bets by breaking your goals into baby, baby steps. As you succeed with each one, you’ll build confidence for the next. But if you’re a person who bounces back fairly quickly from a setback, then you can create your net by building a loosely-knit Plan B.

In either case, you can’t let fear of failure overtake your planning process, or you’ll never get started at all. At some point, it’s worth the risk to take the leap, if only to get things unstuck in your life. Happy planning to you in 2018 – but more importantly, happy doing.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.