“I’ve been assembling tires since 18,” says Bob. Processing nearly 300 tires over a 12-hour shift, Bob routinely pulls rubber and lining over a drum, cuts the material, then flips the half-finished tire – weighing up to 10kg apiece – onto a rack.

Now, at 56, Bob’s body is ruined. “It started with my lower back, then the pain spread to the knees, elbows and shoulders,” he said. “Now the company says it can’t hire me anymore.”

Bob’s plight is a sad story of a workhorse that has been worked till it is spent, and now faces the possibility of being discarded. Though fictional, this story is to a certain extent reflective of real life. Have you not seen workhorses in your life? Or perhaps you are a workhorse yourself? Not all workhorses are treated well; some unfortunate ones suffer the same fate as Boxer, a fictional stallion in George Orwell’s Animal Farm that worked until it collapsed and was sent to the knacker’s yard to be put to death.

The moral of the story is – take career planning into your own hands. Certainly, there are praiseworthy employers who walk the talk by trying their best to live up to the management principles espoused by various human resource gurus, and place a premium on their employees. Nevertheless, taking charge of your career development is a personal responsibility that you cannot shirk or leave totally to someone else. In today’s fast-changing, ultra-competitive world, where companies and workers alike face mounting pressure, you ignore career planning at your own peril. Start early before it’s too late.

Begin with the end in mind

In our younger days, most of us would have asked or been posed this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Being kids who didn’t know better, we might have come up with fanciful answers, somewhat along the lines of: “I want to be an astronaut.”

Most likely, the majority of us are now holding jobs which are not even remotely related to the exploration of outer space. Yet that innocent question of childhood is based on a sound principle, which Stephen Covey aptly summarised as beginning with the end in mind.

As Covey says, beginning with the end in mind is “the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes”. He then goes on to say that if we don’t make a conscious effort to visualise who we are and what we want in life, we actually relinquish our autonomy, and empower other people and circumstances to shape our lives, for better or for worse.

It’s hard work, and many a time it takes great conviction to translate what we have visualised into reality. But it’s worth the effort. In lives often stymied by pessimism, plucking up the courage to dream and strive for our aspirations is a fantastic panacea for the fatalistic “this is my lot in life”!

What to do next?

Assuming that you’ve been convinced, and are ready to take career planning into your own hands, here’s a four-step process to help you out.

Self discovery

Find out more about yourself, what your values are, what you’re interested in, what strengths and skills you have, what kinds of work environments you prefer, and what your developmental needs are.

Explore options

Research the various industries and occupations that might appeal to you. The Internet is a vast repository of information – use it! Talk to people who are already in those industries that you’re contemplating. For example, you might find yourself attracted to the glamour of the legal profession, but upon checking with friends who are in that field, you may discover that lawyers do more than just fight court cases. Many also have to contend with hours of back-breaking paperwork. Is that what you want? Do your homework, so that you go into something new with your eyes fully open.

Matching

During this phase of the process, you’ll bring what you’ve learnt to bear on decision-making. Match what you’ve discovered about yourself against the options that you’ve explored. As a good practice, identify both long- and short-term options.

At this stage, you’ll also be identifying gaps – be they academic qualifications or lifestyle adjustments – that need to be plugged before you are ready to make a career change.

Action

Finally, take action. Enrol in training programmes, prepare your resumes, write cover letters or prepare for interviews – do whatever is necessary to put you on track to make a successful transition.