Paul Heng, For The Straits Times

A career coach's guide to developing a Plan B for your life

Plan A is what one does in a chosen career. It is crucial to have a Plan B for one's post-corporate life, activities that one can embark on any time, which could be income-generating and "giving work" like volunteering, as Mr Avadhani Popuri Nageswar
Plan A is what one does in a chosen career. It is crucial to have a Plan B for one's post-corporate life, activities that one can embark on any time, which could be income-generating and "giving work" like volunteering, as Mr Avadhani Popuri Nageswara (above) is doing in showing Madam Patricia Tan some tips on using the computer.ST FILE PHOTO

The New Year festivities are upon us. Amid the celebrations, parties and holidays, this may be a good time to think about where you are going with your life.

Some of the common issues I have come across in my work as a life and career coach are: "Where do I take my career from here?", "I cannot really pin down the reasons why, but I have been feeling like I want to just leave my job and do nothing, forever", and "Having been there and done that, I would like to think that I am a successful woman, but I am not happy".

Finding meaning in our lives and being happy, perhaps, go hand in hand. Career issues are practical ones, but living a happy life is abstract, and definitely more important.

I can think of two ways that we can live our lives - "take it as it comes", and "purposeful planning". There is, of course, no right or wrong and to each his own, but I am a strong advocate of the latter.

My rationale is this: If we know where we want to go in life, we can be clearer about the path we take. Everyone would like to live a life with minimal regrets. With planning, there is a better chance it may happen. There may be a need to tweak and maybe even do a major overhaul of our plans, but it is still better to have plans.

Life purpose

EXPLORING the answer to the big question - "What is my purpose in life?" - should offer you a clearer view of where you might wish to head.

About a decade ago, I found my calling - to be able to live each of my days making a difference to at least one person. This need not be earth-shattering stuff. It could be by bringing an 'aha!" moment to a person I am coaching, or a smile to someone who appears to be cringing under the weight of the world on her shoulders.

I have been fortunate to have found my calling but the reality is that it is usually not so simple, and some may tear all their hair out and yet never experience the eureka moment.

What might be helpful is to begin by thinking about and identifying the different elements that are important to you in your life, such as career, family, finance and health. Make plans for each of these priorities and go from there. Mind-mapping techniques can also be used.

Sometimes, undergoing powerful, personal experiences could also alter one's direction and result in a totally different life plan. Some of the survivors of the 9/11 tragedy have been reported to have lived their lives differently thereafter- choosing to plan their lives around family members and loved ones instead of climbing the corporate ladder and chasing after money.

Closer to home, we have read about Mrs Jennifer Yeo's Viva Foundation, set up jointly with St Jude Children's Research Hospital in the United States to establish Singapore as a world-class centre to treat childhood cancer. This project came into being as a result of her son's childhood battle with leukaemia.

Post-corporate life

PLANNING for your post-corporate life is important. I am using the term "corporate life" to describe in general what we do with the bulk of our waking hours - our chosen career. I call this Plan A.

I am staying away from the "R" word - retirement. In my dictionary, this has been a redundant word for some years now.

Having coached over the past 18 years many people who have lost their jobs, their main source of livelihood, I can speak with authority that it is one experience that few people, if anyone, would like to go through. The exceptions are those who have been looking forward to leaving a dreaded boss or job - and have their wish granted and a nice severance package to go along with it. Imagine reporting for work one morning, being called in for a meeting during the day, and told to pack your personal effects and leave as your services are no longer required. Nothing personal, it's all business. By the end of that day, you are history - regardless of the number of years you spent with that one employer, or the excellent work that you have done.

Some have slid down the slippery slope of losing their self-esteem and confidence and sinking into depression. We cannot prevent the retrenchment axe from falling on our necks. What we can do, however, is have something else to move on to - in the event that we are unable to get back to mainstream employment.

Even if you succeed in getting another job, it may well be a matter of time before you have to leave again. Therefore, Plan B is more important than Plan A - it should be more sustainable and give you better control over your own future.

With improved and greater access to health care and medication, Singaporeans now enjoy a life expectancy of an average of 82.5 years. Whether you jump up and down over this statistic depends on your general health and quality of life as you enter your golden years.

Of prime importance is the need to stay active - both mentally and physically - to have a reasonable quality of life. To do that, you need to have a Plan B - in addition to good physical health.

Plan B is what you do with the bulk of your time once you exit Plan A, voluntarily or otherwise. For the majority of people, that would be a time when you are much too young to not do anything. Sure, it would be great to then enjoy the fruits of your labour - play more golf, travel more, spend more time with loved ones - but you cannot possibly do that 365 days a year. And that has nothing to do with your financial health.

A 2013 US survey discovered that retirement from active work increases the risk of clinical depression by 40 per cent, and retirees may face a 60 per cent higher chance of having a physical condition. Also disconcerting are the findings from another US study linking retirement to premature death.

Plan B could involve a combination of income- and non-income-generating activities. Its key benefit is to enable you to not just stay active but also be of use to others, and society at large. Also, you are at liberty to decide how much - or how little - you do of an activity since generating financial income may not be your main motivation then.

I have a Plan B - a portfolio of activities that I will be able to embark on whenever I wish. I call it my portfolio career. Some activities will be income-generating, such as continuing with my coaching work, and others like volunteering with the Rotary Club and an orphanage in Chiang Mai will be "giving work".

The worst thing that can happen to any able-bodied person is to live a life that is of no consequence to others. I dare not even imagine how that might feel. We can mitigate the risk of this happening by planning and putting together a Plan B way before we need to launch it, maybe when one turns 40-ish. Many of us do planning as part of our Plan A job, and do it well. It would be ironic and even stupid if we do not plan for ourselves.

The writer is founder and managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia.