When I left Microsoft in 2010 after many years of challenge, excitement, success, and failure, the obvious question I got asked was “why are you leaving?” Of course, some were genuinely interested while others were just looking for some salacious executive suite story. The truth was pretty simple – I’d decided it was time to pursue some other goals in my personal and professional life. As I’ve recounted before, knowing when to move on is an important life skill.
With all of that said, I’ve come to realize that “career plans” can be a trap best avoided.
As I look back now, that first question was almost always followed by a more interesting query: “what are you going to do next?” When you choose to leave a good job with a great company, people naturally assume you have a “plan.” I definitely wanted to find a way to have “impact” beyond the world of selling products and making money, and my time at Microsoft had afforded me a unique opportunity to pursue that plan.
Career planning encompasses a significant percentage of the questions when I speak publicly or meet with someone looking for advice over a cup of coffee (or water in my case). “What do you think of my career plan?” “How should I think about the next phase of my career?” “How do I change my career trajectory?” “Do I need a new career plan?” The list of similar questions goes on – and it doesn’t matter whether I’m talking to an undergraduate student, MBA graduate, someone early in their career, or someone who is at my advanced age – the quest for the perfect plan well executed seems fundamental to our human condition.
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