by Steve Bolerjack
As the century ends, professional life in America has reached extremes-both promising and troubling-that no one could have foreseen even ten years ago. Certainly, we’re in the best job market in 25 years and opportunities abound in such fields as high technology, marketing, interactive, retail, healthcare and many others. But just as many disciplines and ways of doing business are disappearing so quickly or changing so rapidly that their employees have become uncertain, even frightened about the future. We hear a lot today about job burnout, phaseout, forced retirement, professional “stranding,” surprisingly early age discrimination and mid-life crises-some of which may be traceable to the absence of a clear, strategic, flexible and long-term plan for both one’s professional and personal life.
Few of us have the foresight to plan our lives and careers from an early point, such as graduation from college.
Planning Your Life
Very few of us have the foresight actually to plan our lives and careers from an early point, such as graduation from college. We may have goals and dreams, but probably haven’t developed an actual plan to achieve them strategically and in a timely way. And many people simply take a passive approach, merely reacting to what happens to them. Later when we’re faced with a sudden career change or loss, we may be totally unprepared to deal with it, either professionally or personally. We don’t have a roadmap.
You’re much more likely to lead a successful, happy life with a proactive approach. While the Five O’Clock Club doesn’t have all the solutions to these issues, it does offer one of the most useful, effective and proven tools to help you not only imagine, envision and articulate your most heartfelt goals and expectations, but to give you the actual mechanics and means of achieving them. The Forty-Year Vision (see our book Targeting the Job You Want) is the centerpiece of Five O’Clock methodology and one of the most important steps you can take in getting what you want out of life.
The Forty-Year Vision is one of the most important steps you can take toward getting what you want out of life.
What is the Forty-Year Vision?
Essentially an extensive exercise in self-assessment, the best characteristic of the Forty-Year Vision is its hands-on practicality. It bridges the gap between a long-range, abstract concept-40 years into your future-and the actual everyday, realistic ways you can get there.
With a detailed worksheet to guide you, the Forty-Year Vision leads you through specific questions, issues and timeframes that deal not only with professional aspects of your future, but very personal ones as well. “For some reason, people are a bit afraid to imagine scenarios far into the future,” says Kate. “And we’ve found it’s a very difficult thing to do on your own. So the Forty Year-Vision is designed to make that process easier, to ‘take you by the hand’ so to speak, and lead you into the best future you can imagine for yourself.”
Those practical applications of the Forty-Year Vision are best illustrated by Five O’Clock Clubbers themselves. Several members have achieved striking successes after doing the exercise and putting it into action.
Our Members’ Success Stories
For example, Jim Frye, of our Washington, DC branch, worked in academic administration support services for many years. As time passed, however, changes at both the university where he worked, and in the field itself were leaving him less satisfied and increasingly unhappy. The university structure became more and more rigid while opportunities seemed to decline.
Like a Greek chorus, Clubbers almost always encourage new members to focus on the self-assessment -especially the Seven Stories Exercise and the Forty-Year Vision -before anything else.
At some point Jim did his Forty-Year Vision, then continued to interview and network. Several months passed with no results. Finally, without much expectation, he went on an interview for a completely new type of job-related to his previous experience, but one that would require all his organization and creative abilities-just as his Forty-Year Vision had indicated was his greatest need. “It was only at the interview that I realized how much the job clicked with my long-term plan,” says Jim. “It really stimulated my desire to get this new position. I was able to meet the list of criteria for the job because I’d already identified them by doing the Forty-Year exercise.” The new job enables Jim to work more freely and creatively with a smaller student body and in an honors program where he feels he can best put his own interests and talents to use. “It did take me some time to do the plan,” he adds. “Thinking decades ahead is a major undertaking, but it’s well worth doing.”
Washington branch head Penny Webb notes that her group is the best advocate of the Forty-Year Vision. “They’re like a Greek chorus,” she laughs. “Whenever new members come in, the group unfailingly encourages them to focus on the self-assessment the Forty-Year Vision provides before they do anything else.”
Similarly in Chicago, branch head Joy Muench reports that the most dynamic and successful club members are those who do their Forty-Year Vision sooner rather than later. “It isn’t just a matter of doing the exercise,” says Joy. “It’s also grasping the power and impact of actually projecting and planning 40 years down the road-appreciating the gravity of what you’re thinking through. You’re actually doing a very momentous thing.”
Mary Ness is a prime example of putting her Forty-Year Vision into play. Mary was a highly successful national sales manager in the antioxidant ingredients segment of the food industry. Despite a company merger, she remained secure, but didn’t agree with some of the new terms and arrangements that resulted from the merger. Finally, she decided to leave, although she remained on excellent terms with the company.
As a result of already doing her Forty-Year Vision, Mary was able to put together quickly a plan to start her own consulting company that would focus on consumer attitudes, trends, ideas, quality market research and ideation focus groups. Not only did the Forty-Year Vision help her know exactly what she wanted to do, it gave her one of the most precise timetables we’ve seen at the Five O’Clock Club. Her schedule calls for an office in Minneapolis (developed over one to five years), then another office in British Columbia (to be developed over five to ten years).
“I was browsing in the career books section of Barnes & Noble one day and came across Kate’s books,” recalls Mary. “That led me to the Five O’Clock Club in Chicago, to doing the Forty-Year Vision and eventually to my own business today.”
A strong strategist, Mary continues to build her new business, work on her MBA and wisely stays in contact with her food and antioxidant industry contacts-any of whom could be clients one day. She prepared in other ways too-she participated in a small business seminar and did some independent aptitude testing. “But the Club really is one of the main reasons I’ve succeeded and know what I’m doing for the future,” she says.
An avid reader of career and business resources, Mary recommends two other books as well: The Power of Purpose: Creating Meaning in Your Life and Work, Richard J. Leider (Berrett-Koehler); and Creating You and Company: Learn to Think Like the CEO of Your Life, William Bridges (Addison-Wesley).
Deborah Scerbicke is another Chicago member who credits the Forty-Year Vision with giving her a specific “roadmap” direction. Deborah has a background in religious organization administration, working for the archdiocese in Chicago for the past two years. (Interestingly, she was referred to the Five O’Clock Club by a nun who had used Club methodology to help develop an intense and eventually expert interest in computers.)
Deborah joined the Club while still employed and well-positioned at the archdiocese but was becoming increasingly dissatisfied. Her Forty-Year Vision immediately showed her exactly what she wanted to do: become an academic dean. With 12 years of academic and membership organization experience and a doctorate degree in American intellectual history with an emphasis on Generation X issues, this was a perfect career objective for her.
Members’ success stories prove there’s nothing to be afraid of !
Her one-to-five year plan called for a position as any kind of dean and she soon accepted one as Dean of Student Services at a small midwestern college-a kind of “entry-level” dean position. At the end of that time with that credential, she’ll be ready to move toward her five-to-ten year goal: academic dean at a progressive community college or liberal arts university. Eventually, Deborah’s plan will enable her to reach her long-term objective: provost at a major university; indeed, a lofty goal. A provost functions as a vice president of academic affairs, in charge of the overall academic vision of the university. It requires both visionary and implementation capabilities.
“As a long-term strategic plan, the Forty-Year Vision really enabled me to lay out some very specific, timely goals,” notes Deborah. “And now, I’m already looking at the longer-term positions-not that I’m sure I’ll move into them soon, but I may be able to interview for them.”
Why interview for positions that one may not be ready for? “I’ll learn more about what is required,” answers Deborah. “I’ll know more about what they’re looking for and eventually be much better prepared and positioned when I am ready to make that move. I really hope to be ready for them even sooner than I originally expected.”
Joy adds that nearly everyone she counsels immediately sees the value of having a long-term plan like the Forty-Year Vision, but notes that few people ever come up with such a vision on their own. In fact, a recent Harvard University study on careers shows that people who have a plan generally have three times the level of job satisfaction than those who don’t; and that those with a written plan generally have ten times the satisfaction level.
You may find yourself limited in using Club methods effectively if you don’t do the Forty-Year Vision early on.
Don’t Be Afraid to Plan Your Future!
Our members’ success stories should prove that there’s nothing to be afraid of! In fact, you may find yourself somewhat limited in learning, progressing and using Club methodology effectively if you don’t do the Forty-Year Vision early on. So whether you’re a longtime Five O’Clock Clubber, a new participant, or just thinking about it, the Forty-Year Vision is the best place to start. And if it’s been awhile since you did the exercise, it’s always good to go back and review and ask yourself, “how am I doing?!”
If an idea fits in with your Forty-Year Vision, do it. If it doesn’t fit, don’t do it!