How to Create a Personal Development Plan For Career Success

It’s no secret that the workforce has been radically altered in the past couple of years. Whether you’re staying the course in your current role, joining the Great Resignation, or navigating your own business, it’s worth taking a beat to consider where you’re headed—what is your ultimate goal?

What’s more, being strategic about your direction is key to achieving your long-term goals. That’s where a personal development plan can come in handy.

But what does “personal development plan” mean? Think about it like an agreement with yourself that lays out your long-term goal and the path of shorter-term goals to get you there.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of creating your personal development plan, here are a few key considerations.

Before Making a Personal Development Plan, Turn Inward

In a now-famous commencement speech to Harvard University’s class of 2016, director Stephen Spielberg offered invaluable career advice: listen to your intuition.[1]

“Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that. Because once I tuned in to my intuition, certain projects began to pull me into them, and others, I turned away from.” — Steven Spielberg

It doesn’t matter what point we’re at in our careers, be it recent grads or senior leadership. Sometimes, the voice of what we should do drowns out our gut instinct.

Be proactive about tuning back into your intuition. Make sure your goals are compatible with what you feel genuinely drawn to.

A related consideration: As Gallup Wellbeing Lead Ryan Wolf said in a recent webcast,[2]

“It’s important to not take all of our goals too seriously, and have some fun with them. Remember, strengths are areas of excellence, ease, and enjoyment. So we need to make sure that…we’re doing things that are enjoyable.”

While goals should be compatible with our strengths, we should also genuinely enjoy the process of working toward them. Studies have shown that while we tend to pursue goals considered important, we’re more like to achieve goals that are fun to work towards.[3]

If you want to train for a marathon but can barely bring yourself to lace on your sneakers for a short morning jog, then maybe consider another athletic challenge.

As you map out your personal development plan, keep in mind that you’re the one who has to walk in your shoes every day, so make sure the path is enjoyable to you.

5 Steps to Creating a Personal Development Plan

Here are five steps to creating your personal development plan for career success.

1. Start in the Negative

Having launched my company Jotform over 16 years ago, I can attest that one of the hardest parts of achieving goals is choosing which to pursue and which to ignore.

Studies show that people who are easily distracted and crave new experiences are more likely to start businesses.[4][5] Like a minefield, distractions disguised as goals, such as rebranding (when it’s not necessary) or hiring (when you’re not ready), are everywhere—and they can be your business or career’s worst enemy.

So, how do you begin navigating that minefield and choose your direction?

According to Harvard Business Review contributor Dorie Clark, start in the negative—by deciding what you don’t want to do. Clark writes:[6]

“Humans are hardwired to dislike uncertainty, and also sometimes because we fear losing status with others if it seems like we don’t know what we’re doing. But that pressure can lead us to prematurely decide on a course of action that may not be a fit. Instead, I advise my clients to take the opposite approach: Get clear on what you don’t want, and then take steps to avoid that.”

The process of elimination can be a handy tool to narrow down your options and kick off your personal development framework.

2. Write a Mission Statement

A crucial step in creating your personal development plan is to write a mission statement.

By now, it’s widely accepted that writing down your goals increases your chances of achieving them. Research has shown that committing goals to paper boosts your likelihood of achieving them by a whopping 42 percent![7]

As an entrepreneur, we often talk about our organization’s mission statement, which is essentially a fancy word for goal. But what exactly should your mission statement contain?

It should include your objective, as well as your approach. So, equal parts lofty and concrete.

Take Jet Blue’s mission statement: “To inspire humanity—both in the air and on the ground.” Or Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”[8]

Your mission statement should be clear, attainable, and shows a touch of your unique personality.

3. Research the Fundamentals

While the first steps in your personal development plan require introspection, you won’t make real progress towards your goal inside a vacuum. Instead, you have to go out in the world (or on the internet) and learn.

Dorie Clark recommends starting with the fundamentals. As she writes for Harvard Business Review, “[F]ocus on the professional equivalent of basic research and double down on foundational skills and knowledge that will make you better, no matter what direction you ultimately decide to pursue.”[9]

Identify topics that will help you advance toward your goal. For example, if your goal is to be promoted to a leadership role, you might want to brush up on your public speaking skills or develop your knack for people management.

Formal continuing education is one option, but nowadays, there are so many ways to direct your own learning. Skillshare, Coursera, and Udacity are just a few of the many online education options.

Not a fan of online learning? Never underestimate the power of networking in person. Schedule an informational interview with a professional you admire. Ask to shadow someone whose path you’d like to emulate. Choose what works for you.

4. Decide How to Measure Progress

A simple but important step in your personal development plan is to designate how you’ll measure your progress as you go along.

So, what does that look like?

Create a list of milestones you’d like to achieve along the way to your long-term objective—like getting a byline in a certain publication, reaching a certain number of followers, being invited to speak at an event, or completing X number of courses. Then, set a regular calendar appointment with yourself, say, every month or quarter, to check whether you’re meeting them.

A side benefit: each time you tick off another milestone achieved, you’ll enjoy that adrenalin rush of accomplishment and feel more motivated to continue.

5. Take Your Own Temperature

Wendy Petties, CEO of Date Your Money, managed to turn her financial life around, going from bankrupt to CEO of a million-dollar business. Using her unique background as an educator, she helps clients reach their personal and financial goals.

Speaking to Time, Petties noted the importance of trusting your body: “Check in with yourself and ask ‘Does this feel good or not?’ You can ebb and flow and change. I keep checking in. Don’t compromise and twist yourself in knots in ways that don’t feel good to you.”[10]

Of course, it’s crucial to regularly check to see whether you’re meeting your objective milestones. But don’t forget to consult your gut as well. Your subjective experience is just as meaningful.

So, ask yourself: how do I feel?

If, at any point, your path no longer feels good—if, for example, you wake up in a panic and dread what you’re doing every day—figure out how to change course and get back on a path that does feel good.

Sample Personal Development Plan

Now that we’ve got the nuts and bolts out of the way, here’s an example of what a personal development plan might look like:

Mission Statement: To lead an online technology publication and shape today’s tech coverage.


  • Research Editor-in-Chief career paths.
  • Schedule informational interviews with three tech EICs.
  • Take online courses in technology to gain specialized expertise.
  • Enroll in advanced editing certification programs.

Measuring progress via milestones:

  • Complete two advanced editing certification programs.
  • Get 10 bylines in tech publications this year.
  • Get published in a monthly tech column by next year.
  • Launch tech newsletter.
  • Reach 10k subscribers after one year.
  • Be promoted to Senior Editor.
  • Be Promoted to Deputy Editor.
  • Be Promoted to EIC.

Final Thoughts

Having a personal development plan is essential if you want to guarantee career success. Using the knowledge and template above, set your goals, measure your progress, and adjust accordingly. Always turn inward and listen to your intuition if you may find yourself stuck. It’ll always lead you in the right direction.

Featured photo credit: bruce mars via


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