7 Reasons to Set Fire to Your Career Plan

Common wisdom has it you should plan out your career in detail otherwise you set yourself up for failure. So why should you do something as crazy as setting fire to your detailed career plan? Here’s why:

1 . The Most Successful People in the World Often Don’t Have a Detailed Plan

I’ve read loads of biographies of the most successful people of the last couple of hundred years and about 80% of them followed their bliss – not a detailed plan. The formula is this: Outrageous Goal + Action Habit = Score!

But then what will you do with each day? Well, Jerry Seinfeld once said something about how he never had any plans to become the most successful comedian ever, all he did was work hard at the one thing he was passionate about, come what may. I am sure you’d like to be as successful as Jerry (or even partially) and of course you can because your future is unlimited – so there’s your answer – just pursue your passion relentlessly.

And for those who are worried about spending too much time on irrelevant tasks. Well, surely you have enough intelligence to recognize a complete waste of time when you see one? Always be doing the next thing you can do that will move you closest to your goal.

2. You Don’t Know What You Will Want in the Future

Studies have repeatedly shown that humans are useless at predicting what they will want in the future. About half way down this post there’s a great story of an experiment where students were asked to predict what sandwiches they would like to eat for the next week. Most of them reported being unhappy with their choices when the day came around to eat what they had pre-ordered.

The Who’s Pete Townshend once wrote “I hope I die before I get old”. He jokes about this now.
You shouldn’t assume that you know now what you’ll want in the future – you don’t and it probably isn’t what you think it is.

You may have a fantastic plan to become a world famous Frisbee champion, but if you wrote this plan without accounting for the lifestyle that would naturally accompany such a career, then you may be confusing a nice fantasy for what you actually need in order to be happy in real life. I don’t know any, but I would imagine that professional Frisbee dudes spend a lot of time traveling and running around on beaches. Now if you hate flying, hate the sun and miss your girlfriend when she goes out shopping with her sister, then you might want to consider if your grand plan is actually congruous with your reality-based needs.

Further, the more detailed your plan is, the more pressure you are going to feel to be getting all those little tasks you’ve set yourself done. And this will mostly be future-based activity – grunt work – which will not necessarily be all that fun. You may wish a lot of those tasks were over as soon as you’ve begun. While adhering to a detailed, demanding plan, you may be putting most of your attention on the future instead of enjoying the moment. And, although we don’t always remember to do it, I think it’s pretty much common knowledge that the best way to enjoy life is to live in the present moment and be grateful for your blessings.

If you are truly happy to live a simple life, spent strumming your guitar on the porch while your husband bakes you a nice cake, then burn your plan to become a rock star and just chill.

3. You Don’t Know What Will Happen in the Future

What does your future hold? Flood? Fire? War? Plane crash? Financial ruin? Ill health?
Or maybe you are but a couple of years away from an incredible, unexpected stroke of good fortune – a sudden windfall or a surprise career opportunity that you never could have anticipated.

Even barring something outrageous, the truth is you don’t know what the world will bring over the next few years. The rate of change we are experiencing is at an unprecedented high and predictions are that it will continue to increase exponentially. Changing factors that may completely alter the work environment in the next five to ten years include technology, economics, market demands, the oil crisis, politics, global warming, and population growth.

If everything changes around you while you’re slavishly adhering to your detailed plan, you may wake up one day to find demand for your business has waned.

4. Short, One Page Plans Are Better

Australian self-made multi-millionaire real estate agent and author, John McGrath, says he never bothers with detailed plans. In fact he specifically writes that “a business plan’s success is inversely proportional to its length”. The reasons he gives for this are that people have a natural resistance to reading wordy documents therefore long plans tend to wind up stuffed away somewhere, never getting reviewed or acted on.

He recommends one page plans with bullet points to make it easy to scroll through. It should be able to fit onto one PowerPoint slide.

I would also add that in my opinion while spending days or weeks constructing a long detailed plan you are wasting time “thinking” instead of “doing”.

5. Over-Planning Indicates a Lack of Trust in the Source to Provide.

Ok – I admit – this is pretty hippy.

And I just don’t think that this sort of thinking applies to people living in Third World countries, but it does apply for the First World. The fact is, if you are working class or higher, you are, in fact, comparatively rich. And if you are sensible, and don’t make yourself miserable by focusing on the gap between what you want and what you actually have, you should be able to relax and be grateful for the blessings in your life, even as you work for tomorrow’s bread.

If, however, you just spend all your time being scared about not having enough, and therefore over-planning to try and control life’s outcomes, then you are sending out the wrong vibrational message.

And hey – maybe that Law of Attraction phooey works or maybe it doesn’t, but even at a pragmatic level, others will smell your fear and run a mile (taking the opportunities they may have sent your way with them).

6. Your Plan May Be Limiting Your Success

Your detailed plan is a product of your imagination, and while you may think you’re a pretty creative cat, you may be limiting your options to what you can imagine while writing it.

For example: You are a software developer running your own start-up. You write a spiffy, detailed plan that involves marketing your products through different online channels. Things are going well; you’re busy and making okay money but not exactly setting the world on fire.

One night you’re at a bar and a friend introduces you to a woman who is interested in your business. She asks you to come along and give a talk about how you market yourself online at a local small business meet-up. You mentally check the plan – nope, no mention of public speaking there, and plenty of online marketing to do – so you politely refuse. Stick to the plan, you tell yourself. Meanwhile, who’s to say that your product, surreptitiously mentioned in your talk, wouldn’t have appealed to a number of the business people present, should you have been so crazy as to give spontaneity a go?

7. Planning Actually Achieves Nothing

Nobody ever wrote a business plan that didn’t make a huge profit, but plenty of businesses crash and burn. Why? Because it’s not the detailed plan that makes things happen – it’s you. It’s your actions, your hard work, your focus, your persistence.

The Taoist school of thought recommends that you abandon planning altogether and instead “flow like water”. Although that sounds pretty goofy, if you stop and think about the qualities of water, it makes sense. Water is flexible, passive, and it flows around the rocks rather than trying to push through them – yet it always reaches its goal – the ocean. I personally take this approach. It has worked wonders for me and I believe this counter-intuitive strategy will give you great results also. If you allow yourself to open up to the mystery of life, then your future will be a grand adventure – and the best way to do this is to click on that detailed plan and drag it into the trash.

For those not game for a complete no-plan approach then some less “out-there” advice is to keep your plan simple, brief and focused on a specific result. That way you can be flexible and responsive along the way, whilst always keeping your eyes on the prize and your ship heading in the right direction.

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Seamus Anthony is a musician, writer and entrepreneur who lives in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges, near Melbourne, Australia. You can check out more of his personal development writing at

Image by Nestor Galina.

44 Responses to 7 Reasons to Set Fire to Your Career Plan

  1. Pete says:

    well, at least I can cross off plans off my list of things to do :) . Actually, I rather agree, as all the three month plans I made for business never worked out, nor did they seem to help. All they did is remind me what I held important three months ago, and how little that means today. I think a basic rule of thumb plan for what you want to accomplish works much better, as is suggested…

  2. daniel says:

    This article was really good. I hate those self-help articles that don’t really help at all. I’ll remember some of these in the future. Thanks!

  3. Shanel Yang says:

    So true! When I was in high school, I was all in a panic to pick a career path that was absolutely right for me. There were counselors and personality tests and all sorts on me to do this or that — especially my parents! I picked lawyer not because that’s what I loved (which was writing, teaching, and psychology) but because I incorrectly believed that it was the closest thing to what I loved but also what my parents wanted for me. Bad mistake! I probably could have saved myself tons of student loan debt followed by tons of consumer debt (expensive consolation prizes for unhappy life) and 15 years of sadness if I’d just done what you advise.

    Thank goodness, I’ve finally come to my senses! I’ve been in heaven for almost a year now following my passion of writing, teaching, and, yes, psychology, by providing self help through blogging. One my proudest accomplishments so far in this mission is the “All About You!” series that helps others find their passions. It’s at : )

  4. Luis H says:

    I totally disagree with this. This is bad advice. This is a procrastinator’s dream.

  5. Sandeep says:

    Great post! Enjoyed reading it.

  6. what’s great about this perspective is this: plans and processes often serve to keep you from your feelings and instincts. And instincts are the best compass for success – every time.

  7. Marcus says:

    Totally agree with you here. I’ve tried the planning thing and its always limited me more than enabled me. It’s my experience that its best to have some broad goals, and then to focus on becoming familiar with your values – the criteria you use for examining the opportunities that you discover.

    I read quite a few books on career counseling in my time, and masqueraded as a career counselor for part of a year. The book that really blew my mind was “luck is no accident:..” which I recommend to everyone nowadays. It helped me ditch the limitations I had set on my future through too much planning. Now I’m taking opportunities that I had not foreseen, or planned for, and I’m much happier and less frustrated.

  8. I wanted to recommend two fantastic books that agree with this approach and demonstrate how to put this into action for outstanding results!

    Screw It, Let’s Do It! by Sir Richard Branson and Jump In! Even If You Don’t Know How To Swim, by Mark Burnett (creator of Survivor and The Apprentice)

    Alternatively, you could read a book titled “I’m Still Planning To Write My Book And As Soon As All Of These Ducks Will Line Up It Will Be Great” by …

    Oh. Wait. You can’t read that book yet… Oh well, I’m sure the author is busily working on a very solid plan for it!

    One other thing… If you need a reason to light a fire under YOURSELF to get on with it and start doing those things you want to do – I suggest you read: What’s Your Expiry Date? Embrace Your Mortality – Live With Vitality by me!


  9. Scott says:

    I agree with this artcle. Planning takes all the fun away from life. Suprise me!

  10. I definitely agree that conventional goal setting is ineffective and generally a waste of time.

    In my experience, it is much more helpful to have an idea of what you want your business to look like in the future and begin working on 1 thing that will move you closer to that outcome.

  11. Excellent glad you agree – I know what you mean by the old plans being a snapshot in time.

  12. That’s funny – self-help articles that are no help :-) I personally don’t like the ones that stress me out. Although some of them do give you a boot up the butt when it seems timely. It’s a precarious thang.

  13. Good! I would have been disappointed if I failed to polarize! But who says non-planners are procrastinators? Any way, I didn’t really mean burn all plans – just over-wrought plans :-)

  14. and I enjoyed writing it :-)

  15. Marcus that’s awesome – that’s what I meant about limiting yourself to what you can imagine. I’ll check that book out.

  16. Yep. That’s Curly’s Law all the way! (Check out the e-book via Rebel Zen if you don’t know what I am on about.)

  17. Yes, your responsiveness is increased by not being a robot.

  18. Of course the flip side of this is that you learned a great deal no doubt along the way, stuff that use in your work now right? (You’re leveraging your regrets

  19. Thanks Patrick – there’s some good resources right there :-) (I’d take old Branson’s advice for sure, at least where it comes to business.)

  20. Morgana Rae says:

    Brilliant. I love your article. My philosophy (and experience) entirely.

    Be flexible, take baby steps, pay attention, and respond to what happens. Especially these days, when everybody’s planned lives are shifting so quickly.

    Thanks for posting this, Seamus!


  21. No worries Morgana – I went and checked out your blog and really enjoyed this post – . A Rebel Zen approach to abundance affirmations!

  22. Funny you mention this – I just recommended Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness on a different blog. He talks about this exact thing – that we don’t know what our future selves will actually want.

    I have a tendency to use planning for procrastination so keep my plans to “what do I want to achieve? what can I do repeatedly to get there?” and that’s it. Nothing detailed for me or I start planning more than working.

  23. “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men experience it as a whole. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller

  24. Exactly – that’s what I used to do – plan more than work. It’s good to spend time planning – but not too much. Keep it simple. get on with it.

  25. Yeah – I think Deepak Chopra (spelling?) calls it being secure in the certainty of insecurity or uncertainty … oh dear .. I read that book a loooong time go …

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  27. I only agree partly to this article. The need for plans depends on the person. Some people are just disorganized and would find themselves lost without a map. Having said that, I do believe that some people shoot themselves in the foot by wasting too much time planning and not acting.

    In essence, if you’re going to plan, don’t overdo it.

  28. I for one, cannot overplan. It completely stifles my creativity. I need the ability to change things, rework my plan, be spontaneous, etc.

    Although I will say that a loose plan with my goals and objectives has helped me out tremendously. I think whatever works for you is what matters. As long as you’re not spending more time working on your plan than you are working on your goals.

    Great article Seamus.

  29. Dare says:

    I usually plan and then adjust my plan according to the feedback from the real world I get…that’s a better way than having fixed plan.

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  31. Yeah – that’s pretty much what I meant but I just skewed the article to take a stance. No one likes a wishy washy article :-)

  32. Cheers Jonathan – I concur 100%

  33. Yeah for sure – although when it comes to feedback from the people of the real world, selective deafness is a must because there’ll always be the knockers trying to bring you back down to their level.

  34. Open Heart says:

    This is quite dangerous advice that I think should really be taken with a pinch of salt.

    Yes you have to be flexible and very aware to know where you want to go! And that is not easy.

    But also most definitely you need to have a plan! Even if you don’t follow it to the end (which probably you will not in 99% of the times), but you have to do it because it will get you moving, in the direction you want to go when you plan.

    If you don’t plan, most likely you don’t move anywhere and stand still…

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  38. please send me a message about a future career

  39. i want you to send mea message about future career.

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    Absolutely agree that clarity of path is needed. We each have our own style of walking, however, the fundamentals which you outline in your blog remain integral to some form of success.  

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