When a reporter asked me for my take on the initiative of offering free MRT rides to the city area to help manage the morning rush, I must confess my reaction was one of disbelief.

No, it would never happen, I thought. I reasoned that since our public transport providers were businesses, with boards and shareholders to be accountable to, how could they even entertain the idea of free transport, albeit for a certain duration of the working day?

Yet, since June 24, commuters who have taken the MRT to the city area before 7.45am on weekdays, have been travelling free of charge.

On further reflection, it is easy to understand how the Government has been able to do this. Precisely because it has prudently managed the nation’s money, it is able to introduce schemes such as this for the public good.

It is the same with your career. If you plan and proactively and continuously take charge of your life — your career and financial health are integral parts of this — you will similarly be in a position to respond should you face challenges and adversity. In your hour of need, you can draw on your “reserves”.

When you are in a strong, stable financial situation, far more options will open up for you — in terms of what you choose to do with your life and your career — compared to those who live from paycheque to paycheque to pay off loans, mortgages, credit card bills and so on.

Here are some considerations when planning your career:

Begin with the end in mind

Review your career — where you have been, where you are now, and where you wish to go. Your direction may not always be clear, especially when you are still relatively fresh in your career journey. When you hit your early 30s, you should have some idea where your career is heading. You may find the guidance of a qualified and experienced career coach useful at this point.

Take stock of your qualifications, competencies and skills

Do you have what will be required for your future career? Continued learning, skills acquisition, upgrading and re-skilling are givens in managing your career.

Organisations will always have a budget for training and developing their key talent. That is just one option. The other obvious one is to invest in your own learning and training. Paying your own way to enhance your employability is always an investment in your future, and should not be regarded as an expense.

Network, network, network

This point bears repeating. The entire world is connected by people. Being part of a global association of career management firms has given me the privilege of being connected to partners from all over the world.

Start from home — build a network of business contacts, friends and acquaintances from both within and outside your profession.  Joining professional and community-based networks is one option. With social media available at your finger-tips, “no time” can no longer be an excuse. Being able to call on your network’s expertise, contacts and advice is a privilege open to you if you invest time and effort to build and nurture relationships.

Apply the “one third” rule of career management

Regularly identify and slot the activities of your job into three buckets:

•  Learning: activities you can learn from by performing them;

•  Stretching: activities you know how to do, but need to do more of to become more proficient in them; and

•  Eyes-shut: tasks you can do well or are even an expert in already.

In the world of career management, there is such a thing called an ideal job — one where you have about an equal one-third of your job activities in each bucket.

You will realise that, as you spend more time on your job, fewer activities will be in the “Learning” bucket. The day will come, if you are not careful, when you are “bottom-heavy”, that is, a large percentage of your job activities fall into the “Eyes-shut” bucket.

At this point, you are on a treadmill, running but  going nowhere. This is when you have to explore lateral moves within your current organisation, or outside it. If you fail to do this, your personal and career growth will become stagnant.

If you are already taking charge of your career, kudos to you — that means you would also have thought about a Plan B, that is, what to do after your corporate career is over.

The reality is, in the corporate world, you have a shelf life. And when the expiry date is up, or if it is brought forward by your employer, you can look forward to moving on to Plan B. So start thinking about one before your reserves run low.

Article by Paul Heng, a  career coach with NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia. For more information, call (65) 6323-6626 or visit  www.nextcareer.net and www.arboraglobal.com