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No Personal Development Plan? Write one

We are almost in the middle of the 2020s decade but have you made any progress on your new year’s resolutions?

If one of your resolutions is to get a new job or advance in your career this year, declaring it alone will not do the magic.

If you declared vague resolutions such as “I will get a new job in 2020”, “I will be promoted at work in 2020” or “I’ll get that competitive fellowship or scholarship this year”; to really succeed you need to ditch such resolutions and develop an action plan for personal and professional development instead.

Developing this personal plan provides you the chance to reflect on yourself; review your journey thus far and determine your career direction; identify the next steps (or actions) to take to move towards your goals (AKA the lofty resolutions); and helps you understand your priorities.

Going through this process might be time-consuming and emotionally evoking, but is a better way to guarantee progress towards success than simply declaring resolutions.

Well, let us begin developing this plan, shall we?

Before starting everything, find a suitable place to relax in as you prepare the plan. This can be your bedroom, garden or office, so long as it is a place of minimal distraction. Get a piece of paper or a book to write in, or alternatively any writing device.

The first step is to reflect on the year that was. You have to write everything to avoid forgetting as you proceed. During the reflections, you need to be as open and honest with yourself as possible. You need to ask yourself some hard questions.

Therefore, you should avoid the defensive mentality of blaming others or finding excuses for your actions and circumstances.

Start by writing a list of things that went well in 2019.

This could be the plans or goals you achieved, the accomplishments you made in your career or studies, new skills you acquired, interviews you scored (even if you were eventually not selected), short courses or trainings you attended, and the like.

Then, ask yourself why you succeeded in these accomplishments. We know how great you are, but this is not the moment to answer yourself with ego-appeasing remarks such as “I’m just awesome at this”. Rather, the answer to why you succeeded might enlighten you with some strengths of yours that you probably was not aware of or did not take seriously before.

For example, if you won a writing competition yet you work as an IT Technician, asking yourself why you won might reveal to you that perhaps you write better than most professional writers do, and that writing is one of your distinctive strengths.

Afterwards, jot down what did not go as planned in 2019.

Here again list all of your failures, rejections, regrets and mistakes made whether in your job, studies or applications. Ask yourself why each of these happened. Do not settle for answers like “it was fate”, “it was not my fault” or “bad luck”.

Find out whether you miscalculated the amount of time required to craft a competitive application and rushed everything at the last minute, and therefore submitted a sloppy application which didn’t make the cut. Being this candid with yourself will make you realise that you might have certain challenges such as procrastination that you need to work on if you are to improve outcomes of your efforts.

After writing all the reflections and contemplating on them, you will be in a better position to start planning for this fresh year; because you have an idea of what hindered your progress but also what made you flourish in some instances.

The subsequent action plan will work to address these issues, both the strengths and impediments identified.

For your 2020 action plan (or for any other year’s), I suggest targeting only five key aspects of your life and career to work on:

Develop a new skill

Following the reflections already discussed above, identify a skill, which you need to acquire that is crucial for your next career move. Examples may include learning programming, graphics design, or whatever skill relevant for the aspired job, promotion or employe which will build your personal confidence.

Develop and nurture your hobby

Find a new hobby or work to perfect a current hobby. Hobbies build character and accentuate your personality. Embracing your personality is important because it strengthens your self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and helps you to stand out in your job search or at the workplace. Hobbies also guide you to your true passions and more fitting careers because they ignite your intrinsic interests. Your mastered hobby may turn into a career, a lucrative side hustle, or may simply offer you a wonderful work-life balance because hobbies help us to disconnect with the world and (re)connect with the self; resulting in better self-care and emotional wellbeing.

Develop new connections by joining a new group/organisation/charity

Deliberately seek to join a new group, whether a professional association, a learning group, or a charity organisation. This will connect you with people you share interests with while growing your network, and practicing your leadership or interpersonal skills that are critical to your aspired career move. You may also experience personal growth, and access opportunities and job prospects through your connections from this network.

Develop a proactive approach with your prospects

Write down a list of all available opportunities you can apply for in the New Year that align with your career goals. These include annually opening internships, young professional programmes, fellowships, and scholarships. Take note of their application periods especially the deadlines. Also, subscribe to lists and alerts generated by platforms such as Delon Jobs and newsletters of your target organizations/institutions through their websites. List down all these opportunities, find out whether you meet the eligibility criteria for each opportunity, then identify five or less strategic opportunities to prioritize, and start planning for those applications in advance.

Develop new habits

Look back at your reflections of the past year, and identify what behaviours you struggled with or prevented you from accomplishing your goals. Could these issues hinder your progress with the above-discussed plans?

Are you personally struggling with procrastination? Are you overindulging on weekend fun and overspending (having personal finance issues)? Or are you struggling with work-life balance (having insufficient time to spend with family or experiencing relationship drama)? Resolve these challenges because they may prevent you from accomplishing your plans.

This can be resolved by developing a new habit (or new habits, but start with one at a time). Your new habit should be SMART (specific, measurable/manageable, achievable, realistic, and timely). For example, you may choose to use timers or time management apps to organise your time more efficiently; or find and work with a relationship counsellor to resolve your relationship drama.

Finally, remember to keep the plan in a safe place; you cannot afford to lose it! Revisit the plan regularly to remind yourself of priorities and to keep track of progress. At the end of the year, you will use the plan to reflect on this year’s success and identify personal development areas for the next year.

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