Plan for growth like you’d plan for travel, and then…

letsgrow professional

This post is the first in a series that draws lessons about professional growth from the experience of international travel. The reason for this is that change can be as easy as moving from one place to another, but growth and development require a journey with preparation and challenges along the way.

If you’ve ever taken a big trip, such as travel overseas, you probably didn’t just back into it: “So I found myself in Paris, France.”  Travel like this requires at leastsome planning and mindful steps:

  1. Deciding to go.
  2. Deciding where to go
  3. Deciding when to go
  4. Assembling resources (passport, money, equipment, clothing, tickets)
  5. Boarding the plane and staying on it for the duration of its flight
  6. Establishing enough communication to meet your needs

This list is as sparse as I can imagine, knowing that some people are true spur-of-the-moment travelers. For them, the above steps might occur in a different order, but they’d probably exist one way or another. (Anyone who (like me) appreciates even more planning would have a longer and more detailed list.) We find each of these steps in our experiences of growth:

Deciding to go

What we can’t do with overseas travel is just assume that we’ll get there in the course of our regular routine. Just because I get up and go to work every day doesn’t mean one day I’ll find myself on a plane to Africa or Asia.

Researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente analyzed how people change. The first stages of change don’t show a lot of movement:

  1. Precontemplation. “As far as I’m concerned, no change is wanted or needed.”
  2. Contemplation. “I am aware that a problem exists and am seriously thinking about overcoming it, but I haven’t yet made a commitment to take action.”


Somewhere between stages 2 and 3 a decision is made to make the change, and the decision is similar to deciding to travel. We don’t know where or when or how, but we feel a sense that a vacation or just a change of scenery is needed.

Deciding where and when to go.  Assembling resources.

Prochaska and DiClemente’s third stage takes place after a decision has been made but before the activity begins.

  • Preparation. “I am doing what I know I need to do so that when I dochange my behavior, I can be successful.”

The preparation stage can be wildly different from person to person, just as preparation for travel can vary based on the destination and the personality of the traveler. I like to have a lot of travel details nailed down ahead of time, for instance: dates, places, hotels, activities, and tickets. Others might be fine figuring all that out when they arrive.

Most travelers, however, do decide at the start of their preparations where they are going to go, and when.  This facilitates the ‘assembling resources’ phase. We can save up the money. Make sure tickets and hotels are available. Line up sitters for house, pets, and children.

  1. What is the purpose of your travel? (Educational experience? Relaxation? Business?)
  2. Where are you going?
  3. How will you know that you’ve arrived?
  4. How will you make sure you fulfil the purpose of your travels?

Similarly, when we embark on a professional-growth journey, goalsetting makes a big difference.  In a goalsetting phase for professional growth, you need to answer similar questions:

  1. What skills do you need to develop? Why?
  2. How will you know that you’ve developed in the ways that are important to you?
  3. How will you make sure your development activities are helping you develop the skills you need?

The best development goals are SMART: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based. Here are some ideas for how to make developmental goals SMART.

Once you have crafted your goals, the actions to take in order to meet those goals will become clearer.

But, what if all you can see are the reasons why your goal isn’t so smart? Here’s a cool trick for identifying action steps if all you can see are obstacles:

  1. Write down all of the obstacles you can think of. (It’s too expensive, I don’t have that credential, my network is too small, I don’t feel powerful enough, etc.)
  2. Develop separate plans for turning each obstacle into its own goal: (Save up the money, acquire the credential, learn how to network, accomplish smaller and increasing goals so I can build up my sense of power, etc.)

The listmaking part of the process is part of preparation and assembling resources.  Just like getting a passport and saving up for a trip, you can also assemble what you need in order to accomplish your goals.

Boarding the plane and staying on it for the duration of its flight

This is the stage that Prochaska and DiClemente call “Action.”  You won’t get anywhere on your trip if you never board the plane or if you get off the plane before it takes off. Likewise, experiencing personal growth requires that you move beyond preparation and into action–working the plan that you’ve created to address all of those obstacles.

Sometimes we abort the journey because we are impatient.  We don’t want travel or growth to be uncomfortable or exceedingly long, and yet some of these journeys truly are uncomfortable and seem to take forever.

In The Dip, Seth Godin talks about the importance of these difficulties. The challenges of the journey separate the wannabes from the achievers. Those challenges build up your mental, emotional, and spiritual muscles. They help you develop:

  • focus (without it, you’ll get off track)
  • commitment and perseverance (without them, you’ll quit)
  • knowledge and skills (without them, you’ll go in circles)

So without those challenges, we don’t actually make the journey. But we get just as impatient as the kids in the back of the car…


Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.   Thomas A. Edison

When you feel that you are at your wit’s end and getting nowhere, when you feel most that quitting is the only sane thing to do, that may be the point at which quitting is the worst thing you could possibly do.  [Knowing when to quit and when to stick is the point of Godin’s book The Dip–so if this is where you are, I highly recommend the book!]

Even if you are a spur-of-the-moment traveler, without hitting at least most of these essential steps, you won’t go anywhere. Our personal and professional development is similar. If you never decide where you want to go and when you’ll try to get there, you will continue in all of your same patterns. The first step out of the rut is deciding you need to change.

Next week’s blog post will be on the last step in the above ‘essentials’ list, establishing communication.


Career Leadership Alignment offers coaching for how to be rather than what to do–supporting you in change from the inside out. Ignite the passions and unleash the natural powers that drive high performance in your team!

Amy Kay Watson is a specialist in leadership development as well as cultural and personal transformation. Working with thousands of professionals across North America, Amy has helped individuals and companies re-think organizational culture while implementing effective change. She focuses on leadership, culture, and employee engagement.

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