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Charting a Five-Year Career Plan is Pointless

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Women working on laptops in cafeReza Estakhrian Getty Images

MPW Insiders is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for:How important is it to know where you want to be in five years? is written by Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resource Officer at Accenture.

We are living in a time of unprecedented change. The days of long-term strategic plans are gone. Business goals are fluid and organizations must reinvent themselves frequently to stay competitive. ‘Nimble,’ ‘agile’ and ‘flexible’ are all words that describe the new world of work.

When we think about career planning, the same is true. Given the pace of change, it is hard, if not impossible, to chart a long-term career path. Those who adopt a flexible mindset are going to be at a clear advantage to seize opportunities along their career journey. I’m not suggesting that we abandon career planning – quite the opposite. Our plans just need to focus on different elements that better align with today’s context. When planning, consider these five things:

Prioritize your non-negotiables. Develop a strong sense of what is important to you. Perhaps having an expat work assignment, starting a family, or making an impact in your community are very high on your list. Make sure those things are not sacrificed but integrated into your path.

Be open to the unexpected. As author Deepak Chopra says,“Embrace the unpredictable and unexpected. It is the path to the infinitely creative in you.” In today’s context, we want to expand options, not limit them. If plans are too rigid, we might miss some of the best career opportunities. Personally, one of my most significant career turning points came very unexpectedly. And, it opened up so many more opportunities that would not have come my way had I not walked through that door.

Be brave and step outside your comfort zone. It takes courage to try something new. Get into the habit of stepping outside your comfort zone so you can continue to learn and grow. Career success is built upon the pursuit of lifelong learning. And, as I like to tell my team, progress is greater than perfection!

Invest in relationships. People can help you see your journey through multiple lenses and open doors. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to see the path that is right ahead of us. Taking the time to expand and deepen relationships will maximize your options. A mentor once shared the advice to never miss dinner with colleagues when traveling. Take time to get to know others and equally important, let them get to know you.

“Lift as you rise.” I was at the Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner last year and heard Courtney Banghart, basketball coach at Princeton University, speak. She told a story about her dad and his advice – to lift as you rise — as she was growing her career. To me, it was profound in its simplicity. Like those who have helped you grow your career, how can you pay it forward to help the next generation on their career journeys?

While a five-year career plan may be obsolete, a flexible plan that integrates working at the intersection of your passions and strengths is invaluable. Pay attention to the micro-decisions you can make each day to expand your options, and ultimately, your ability to seize opportunities when they arise on your (albeit winding) career journey.