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Career

What You Should Focus on Instead of Your 5-Year Plan

April 4, 2016

Your career can—and should—take turns you’d never expect

When I began in business, I worked as a recruiter in the human resources department for St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. At the time, I thought the hospital would be the stage for my entire career. But then I relocated to Boston with my husband, who had gotten a new job, and I eventually landed in compensation and benefits in financial services.

Health care and banking couldn’t be more different. Yet over time, my responsibilities in the HR department at FleetBoston Financial grew. I recognized along the way that the most impressive leaders were those curious enough to seek out and take on projects that challenged them.

While at Fleet, my focus in the early 2000s was on managing compensation for the investment and corporate banking units. At this time, there were massive changes going on in the investment-banking industry because the tech bubble had burst.

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I was asked to lead the closing of one of Fleet’s banking units in California, which involved organizing orderly staff layoffs, determining and paying fair severance, dissolving employment contracts and planning for business continuity. This was a much broader array of tasks than I normally handled—and it would require me to travel across the country and live away from home for up to six months.

I was somewhat intimidated by the task but was encouraged by the fact that my managers had confidence in my ability to anticipate what would be needed, develop a comprehensive plan, respond promptly to change and marshal resources to get the job done right—all while treating our colleagues with dignity and respect. It turned out to be one of the biggest professional learning experiences of my life and also was a springboard to a promotion.

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My openness to take on new assignments and learn new skills eventually positioned me for greater leadership roles. In 2004, I joined CVS Health, a move that represented another change and another challenge. Five years later, I was leading all of human resources for one of the nation’s leading health-care companies.

It’s funny; had I mapped out this career path, I probably would’ve missed the professional and personal opportunities that presented themselves—and I never would have gotten here.

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If you’re just starting out in your professional life, it’s important to recognize that your career (and life in general) will ebb and flow. The toughest challenges and most rewarding opportunities are often the ones you didn’t see coming and certainly didn’t plan for. The truth is, not only do you not have to have all your plans set, but you really shouldn’t. Having it all figured out too early might just limit what it’s really most important to focus on: Expanding your horizons.

Lisa Bisaccia is executive vice president and chief human resources officer for CVS Health.