Planners’ work is about service.
Whether using development review to protect environmental quality or developing affordable housing, planners have their eye on the greater good. People are drawn to the profession so they can work for something larger than their own advancement. Moreover, because planners work in collaboration with others, individualism rarely has free rein.
So why does this blog post title include "me"? The answer is that planners should seek work that suits them — work that is aligned with their values and temperament. Perfect alignment is impossible, especially at the beginning of one’s career, but moving toward it is a key to long-term success and career satisfaction.
This post highlights two aspects of this alignment.
The first is values. Aspirational principles such as long-term and systems thinking, providing opportunity and choice, and sustainability are enshrined in the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Most people self-select into planning because they agree with those values. At a more fundamental level, a planning career may be motivated by truth (analysts), justice (advocacy planners), beauty (designers), or care (social planners).
Step 1 is to reflect on your values. Take time to identify them and understand how they rank in importance. Think about how you can align your planning work with those values. Of course, a planner’s community or client may have different values. Since planners are advisors to decision makers, the very nature of the work is to encounter tensions in values. Your goal is to seek a workable alignment, not perfect agreement.
Step 2 is to consider temperament — how you perceive the world and make decisions. Personality assessment tools such a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator and online equivalents offer insights into your preferences. For example, do you tend to live in your head or in the outside world? Are you more intuitive or empirical?
There’s no right answer, just different combinations of strengths and weaknesses. Spoiler alert: The validity (correct measurement) and reliability (different results on different occasions) of these tools has received some criticism. Personality assessments aren’t the last word on who you are, but acknowledging that, they are valuable tools for reflection. They can help you understand yourself and others, and with this understanding you’ll be a better collaborator. In addition, your greater self-knowledge will help you highlight your strengths when crafting your resume and applying for jobs
How does this relate to choosing planning work?
If you are intuitive, you will appreciate jobs that allow you to draw on that strength. For example, planning facilitators make intuitive leaps while running a community meeting — interpreting the “sense” of the group and judging when to nudge it toward agreement. On the other hand, empirical planners flourish in research-oriented jobs, such those that support the development of long-term comprehensive plans.
The caveat here is that while it is good to consider your current temperament, that doesn’t say anything about who you want to become. For example, over your career you may want to develop less prominent characteristics to become a well-rounded professional and person.
Having recommended an alignment between values, temperament and planning work, I offer this important warning. Don’t be too picky! You have to get started, and your ideal job may be your fifth job, not your first. Act too picky you’ll be sitting on the sidelines.
Learn by doing. Experience work outside your comfort zone. Then you can seek alignment between your values and temperament as your career develops.
Top image: Compass photo in the public domain.
About the Author
Richard Willson, FAICP
Richard Willson, FAICP, is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Cal Poly Pomona. He has also served as department chair, interim dean, and independent planning consultant. Willson's research addresses planning practice and parking policy. His book, A Guide to the Idealist: How to Launch and Navigate Your Planning Career, amplifies the themes in this blog series. Willson is also the author of Parking Reform Made Easy (Island Press, 2013) and Parking Management for Smart Growth (2015). Willson holds a PhD in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles, a Master of Planning from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo.