These are the days of great intentions. Around New Year’s Day, it’s energizing to think about future possibilities. The workout plan you’ll follow. The new skills you’ll learn. The career defining moments you’ll create.

But no matter how inspired, most people fail to move forward as envisioned. Many do not make it past the first week of January, overwhelmed by “urgent” tasks related to the return to work, school, etc. Today’s inspiration is insufficient for sustained, long-term career success. The key is converting today’s inspiration into an actionable plan.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
― Benjamin Franklin

A surprising number of professionals and students lack a career plan. For example, many law students arrive on campus with only a vague conception of their future legal career. They don’t know what they want to do or where they want to do it. This lack of vision impedes our ability to proactively develop knowledge and skills―via courses, self-study, and experiences―and network in a way that maximizes our prospects for future success.

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”
― Winston Churchill

Creating a career plan does not need to be a daunting task. A common misconception is that you must have things “figured out” to get started. But to paraphrase Churchill, it’s not so much the plan, but the process. As you work through the planning process, you’ll discover things about potential careers and yourself. These discoveries will lead you to activities and meaningful connections that put you on the path to a fulfilling career.

How do you convert inspiration into long-term career success? There are many potential processes to follow. But that’s part of the problem. The key is choosing one process, implementing it, iteratively adjusting it, and sustaining action.The Start-Up of You

With this in mind, although I suggest several resources below, I strongly encourage you to read The Start-Up of You, which has a free nine-page executive summary. Start with this book and resist the urge to read additional resources until you’ve implemented and mastered what you’ve learned. That is, take action. Don’t just read The Start-Up of You, live it!

  1. The Start-Up of You (Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha) – Survey this book’s home page and then read the nine-page executive summary and review the other resources here. This book will lead you to assess your aspirations and assets and market realities and develop your competitive advantage. The book outlines a great career-building process for everyone, including lawyers.
  2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Steven R. Covey) – This best seller is much more than an inspirational self-help book. It is full of actionable tools, such as the Eisenhower Urgency Matrix. It also emphasizes communication skills, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and other so-called “soft” skills―which are in short supply and of growing importance. Jim Manley and I used this book and the 7 Habits Personal Workbook in a “Leadership for Lawyers” workshop that we held for MSU law students. Georgetown Law School uses 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for its Leadership Academy for first-year law students. It is an excellent resource.
  3. “Canvases” – I encourage professionals and companies (including lawyers and law firms) to use the Business Model Canvas (Alexander Osterwalder) or Lean Canvas (Ash Maurya). A canvas is a one-page, visual tool that gets you thinking about the right questions and how things fit together. It is easy to get started and continue iterating through new versions. Business Model You (Tim Clark) offers a free canvas based on the Business Model Canvas and other resources targeted to individuals.
    The Businesss Model Canvas - strategyzer.com
  4. Designing Your Life (Bill Burnett & Dave Evans) – I purchased this book after reading The New York Times article, Want to Find Fulfillment at Last? Think Like a Designer. My intrigue stems from my teaching of design thinking and lean thinking to our LegalRnD law students as client-centric disciplines for helping improve legal-service delivery. If you’ve worked through the resources above and are not making progress, this may be the book for you.
  5. Building Your Personal (Legal) Brand (Dan Katz) – In this quick-to-read slide deck, my Michigan Law classmate and former MSU Law colleague illustrates how law students and lawyers can (and must) build their personal brand to succeed. Dan urges you to, at a minimum, set up your LinkedIn profile, get on Twitter, and build a blog or personal website. He also challenges you to achieve a goal of 25 coffees over six months to connect and learn from others. To counter traditional legal-industry narratives, Dan prods law students and lawyers: “You are not in the witness protection program.”

“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
― Yoda

A general theme in many of these resources is that, once you establish where you want to go, you need to differentiate yourself from the masses. A good starting point is to think about a problem that you want to solve for your clients. Working through The Startup of You and then completing a canvas will help. Put the current version of your canvas on your office wall and continue to revise it. More importantly, live it. Do not try. Do it!

Happy New Year!