Career Planning Strategy – are you a ‘Goal’ or a ‘River’ Person?

by | Dec 21, 2020 | Career Planning

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up somewhere else!” That old phrase has been spoken many times as a warning to the unfocussed and unprepared. But it’s a phrase that will have different resonance for you depending on how you think, in relation to your career planning strategy and to life in general. For some of us, the idea of knowing where you’re going, in as much detail as possible, is reassuring and a good way to avoid confusion and fear of an uncertain future. For others, though, a sense of knowing where you’re going too much feels constraining and a potential recipe for a dull life and a predictable future (if such a thing is possible in these craziest of times), and the idea of not knowing where you’re going and ending up somewhere else sounds like an exhilarating ride!

The US writer Earl Nightingale used the analogy of Goal People and River People to identify very different orientations to planning. Goal People “by laying out a roadmap of future achievements in front of them….. give their creative minds a clear set of stimuli to work on. Their subconscious minds can then get to work incubating ideas and insights that will help them to reach their goals” whereas River People “are happiest and most fulfilled when they are wading in a rich “river” of interest — a subject or profession about which they are very passionate. While they may not have a concrete plan with measurable goals, river people are often successful because they are so passionate about their area of interest” So, when thinking about you career strategy, do you resonate more with the River or the Goal approach? Or a combination of both?

Goal-oriented people are more likely to favour the use of SMART goal-setting strategies for their career, identifying goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. River-oriented people, on the other hand will find that approach stifling and will prefer a broad set of aspirations based on passion, purpose and personal principles, combined with an openness to seeing what life serves up.

I suspect that, as we develop over time, those of us with River tendencies start to recognise the benefits of being more goal-focussed and precise, and those of us with Goal tendencies recognise the need to go with the flow a little more, so that we get a more balanced approach incorporating the benefits of both planning styles. Something along the lines of what career theorist John Krumboltz called Planned Happenstance.

In these VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) times, we can all benefit from a sense of direction and a planful approach, but also from steering away from making plans and holding aspirations that are too reliant on ‘definites’.

I can help you to set your career direction, tailored to the style of planning and goal setting you prefer.

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