@heyjasperai, military planning on a whiteboard

How To Plan Your Career Like a Warrior for Success and Happiness

career start planning Jul 21, 2021



 Learn how to make more effective career decisions and reach your potential by using the military operations planning method!

During my 20+ years as a Marine Corps Officer, one of my jobs was as a military operations planner. This job entailed taking a higher echelon military objective and then developing plans that support accomplishing that objective. After my time in the Marine Corps, I was a corporate vice president who enjoyed mentoring those seeking career and leadership advice. Through mentoring, I saw the benefits of applying military operations planning to career decision making

First, A Brief Explanation of Military Operations Planning.

A tenet of military operations planning is that there are three levels of operations — strategic, operational, and tactical. The highest level is the strategic level, followed by the operational, then the tactical.

Strategic planning supports national objectives, operational planning and actions support the strategic planning, and tactical planning and actions support the operational planning.

Strategic > Operational > Tactical

Get the strategy wrong, then no amount of victory at the lower, tactical, and operational levels, will result in achieving the national objectives.

Get the strategy right, then by doing the tactics, you will achieve your operational objectives, and by achieving your operational objectives you will then achieve your strategic objectives, your ultimate goal.

Plan Your Career Like a Warrior

So how does all this military rambling from an old Jarhead relate to planning your career for success and happiness in life?

First, and most importantly, as in military operations planning, you need to get the strategy right. For you, the strategic planning is for happiness and success in your life.

Step 1: Strategic Planning — Life Happiness and Success

What kind of LIFE do you want? Take time to think this through. This is the critical strategic step. If you get this wrong, no job is going to feel satisfactory. This is because although a job might be good, it still does not lead to the life you want.

Life Considerations:

  • Geographical location and proximity to friends and family, or specific outdoor activities
  • Importance of money in your overall happiness
  • The need for status and respect
  • Time for family and other pursuits, vice getting on the corporate treadmill with the goal of greater financial rewards
  • Risk tolerance
  • What your typical day, week, or year looks like
  • Importance of things like time off, travel, daily family time
  • Whether you enjoy working more with people or technology? Alone or in teams? In the spotlight or behind the scenes

Be brutally honest with yourself. There is no value in BS-ing yourself here. Once you are done, show this list to someone who both knows you well and has your well-being at heart. You might have said (and believed) that you want time off during the day to pursue hobbies, but your reviewer may note that when you have, you have complained about being bored!

Take a reviewer’s thoughts into consideration, but ultimately this is your very important decision. Note that there is absolutely nothing mentioned here about your skills or education.

Step 2: Operational Planning — Your Career

So now, you have an idea of how you want your life to be, so let’s move on to the operational planning level — planning for your career.

Career Considerations:

  • A high interest for a particular type of work
  • A strong dislike for a particular type of work
  • A preference for corporate work, industry, academia, government/military, or maybe non-profits
  • High interest in either the arts, science, engineering, technology, health care
  • One that typically involves a lot of travel, or one that usually does not.
  • One which involves a lot of long hours initially, with some expected pay off later, or one that typically does not

Think this through, and maybe initially choose a couple of potential career fields.

Next, run it through your life considerations from your strategic assessment.

Are there disconnects?

Career fields can vary significantly (e.g., a brain surgeon and a medical technician are both in the field of health care). Don’t necessarily eliminate career fields just yet, but make sure you track your concerns.

Step 3: Tactical Planning — Jobs Within Career Fields

Now onto the final part — the tactical level. Here is where we look at specific jobs within the career fields you defined above.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s sponsored O*Net Online is a great resource. There you will find job descriptions, interest surveys to help determine jobs you may like, jobs based on education, and a wealth of additional information. I encourage you to do your research.

As you do your research, again be brutally honest with yourself. Your tactical planning (job), must support your operational planning (career), which must support your strategic planning (life happiness and success).

You may find that a particular job requires additional training or education. This must also fit within your life and career wants, or you must be open to a time and financial commitment to achieve the skills and credentials needed for the job you want. You may also find a job within a field that sounds great, but it does not meet your life objectives. Then going down that path can ultimately lead to dissatisfaction!

Putting Your Plan into Action

Let’s walk through an example. You just graduated college with a bachelors in biology. There are jobs out there, mostly working in a lab, and the pay is decent. You are tempted to follow classmates and take one of those jobs! Your professors, however, think you’d be great med school material. But first, you do an honest lifestyle assessment. You come up with:

  • You liked school, but at least for now, are over it and want to get on with life.
  • You like working directly with people
  • You want time to pursue other things and to spend time with your family.

So where does that lead you? Being a doctor would give you the chance to help other people, but it would also mean a lot more school time and afterward a very time demanding residency and practice. The lab is the easy out, and the hours would be great, but you would not directly help people. So, you explore other options within the health care field. This could lead you to something like an EMT — a job with set hours, working directly to help people, and the training you need is all done on your own time, something you can handle.

Here Is the Beauty of This Way of Planning

Note, that I do not recommend that you start looking for jobs based on the type of work you have a passion for. Many have recommended you work in those jobs under the thought that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.

However, there are those that have followed their passion and have found they are not satisfied with their job. It’s because a passion for your work isn’t enough; It must also fit within the strategic planning level of life considerations for your happiness and success.

So, what happens if you get the strategic level right — you’ve defined the life you want, you are happy with your operational level — career path, but get lured into a job (tactical level plan), that sounds great, and then find that it doesn’t meet your life objectives? Or the job is advertised as one thing and it turns out it's different?

Examples of this are a job that has long hours, but great pay, so you take it thinking you will gut it out for a while. Or the job is advertised as not requiring travel, but once you are hired you find that isn’t so.

The beauty of this method is, you do what is relatively easy, you change jobs! That is because you have the career area and life needs correct, and changing jobs is much easier than changing your career field or life.

Warriors Plan This Way for A Reason — It Works!

But what happens if you don’t start with the strategic level? Then you run the risk of getting a great job, but still, you feel unfilled. The 8 hours of the day you spend at work are fine, but the other 16 seem to be missing something. You become like many people today who want to know whether they should quit their jobs because for some reason they aren’t happy with their lives. Don’t skip the strategic assessment!

The military operations planning method of strategy > operations > tactics approach works. I believe its adaptation to your career and job decision-making will help you not only find fulfilling work, but also the life you want to have.