Many years ago, I worked at a company that hired a lot of summer interns. But these weren’t your typical upper division college students or recent college graduates: they were all recent high school graduates, working for us over the summer until they started college. They all had plans, and they were spending a few months over the summer with us to get a better idea of what the business world was really like (and to make a few bucks along the way).
At the end of the summer, we held a going away party for the interns in the big conference room. Five interns and about 40 staff stood around and shared small talk and cake. Conspicuously absent was Phil, our company president, who was stuck on a conference call.
As the party was starting to wind down, Phil walked in, apologized for being late, and gave a brief speech thanking the interns for the contributions they had made to the organization over the summer. Then he asked the interns, who were all huddled together on one side of the conference room:
“So what are your plans now?”
One by one the interns shared where they were going to college, what they would be majoring in, and the jobs they were going to get after graduation. It was all very well thought out, and very impressive.
“It’s nice that you all know exactly what you want to do,” Phil said. Then he turned around to his staff and asked:
“How many of you are doing today exactly what you thought you’d be doing when you graduated from high school?”
Of the approximately 40 staff in the room, just one woman raised her hand. And that was Phil’s personal secretary, who was in her mid to late 60s and just a couple months away from retirement.
I’m not sure who was more shocked–the interns, or the long-time staffers–but a lot of jaws dropped in that conference room.
And then Phil trotted off to his next conference call.
For every person who wanted to be a doctor since they were six years old and then went out and actually did it, there are hundreds of people who wanted to be doctors and ended up in other places. Those people are not failures. In fact, most of them are very successful.
It’s good to have a plan. But it’s also good to be flexible, or “agile” in the parlance of our times. Don’t be a slave to your plan. Because you never know what life might throw at you…