Launching Your Planning Career: A Guide for Idealists

The planning profession is rooted in the optimistic idea of betterment: transforming communities from the ground up to achieve livability, sustainability, and social justice. Attaining this entails a healthy measure of idealism. However, it also requires that young planners are realists, prepared for long timeframes, ethical dilemmas, warring stakeholders, and red tape.

For young planners, facing these obstacles unprepared can be deflating, or worse, disillusioning. In order for idealism to prevail, they must match their purpose and skills with reflective capacities.

Richard Willson draws on his years of experience in the classroom, as a researcher, and as a mentor to young planners. His insights provide processes for making choices in the career "launching" phase — addressing decision making, doubt, types of work, and work settings.

His blog posts also offer ways to manage early professional practice, offering a planning style of principled adaptability. He suggests ways to navigate the gap between what is and what should be, deal with missteps, gain a mentor, and better understand the planning career journey.

This blog series is amplified in Richard Willson's book, A Guide for the Idealist: How to Launch and Navigate Your Planning Career. The book includes perspectives, tools, advice, and personal anecdotes. Available now.

"A Guide for the Idealist" Articles

I'm an Underworked Planner and I'm Losing Heart

9 Ways to Know If Your Work Is Consuming You

Tips for the Overworked Planner

The Workplace Conspiracy Against Change

Reframing Anxiety

Moving Into Planning Management

7 Answers to Questions About Mentoring

5 Scenarios for "Reading" Your Supervisor

Finding Your Way to the Best Planning Job

Trust: A Must-Have for Credibility, Influence, and Power

Credibility, Influence, and Power: How to Get It, How to Use It

Theories of Change and Your Planning Career

Planning Theory: What Is It Good For?

Mentoring and the Planning Fountain of Youth

So ... No Planning Degree?

Can I Work Part-Time as a Planner?

Should I Start a Consulting Firm?

Strategies for the Delayed Career Launch

What Can a Mentor Really Do for Your Career?

Organizational Dos and Don'ts for Your Career

Making Planning Teams Work

How to Recognize (and Respond to) an Organization's Culture

Don't Get Along With Your Manager? Try Tolerance

Avoiding Wrong

Am I Making a Difference?

Steering a Career Between Your 'Right' Answer and Reality

Career Plans Are Useless

I'm No Regulator — I'm Creative!

Principled Adaptability Blends Realism and Idealism at Work

I Need to Quit This Job — Now!

Early Career Angst

Beyond the Public/Private Dichotomy: Big Workplace or Small?

Dealing With Doubt: Am I Good Enough?

How Can I Align My Work With Me?

Where Should I Work?

Your Career Path Is a Journey — Are You Navigating?

About the Author

Richard Willson, FAICP

Richard Willson 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 academic strategic planner. Willson's research addresses planning theory and practice, parking policy, and climate change planning. His book, A Guide to the Idealist: How to Launch and Navigate Your Planning Career, amplifies the themes in this blog series and provides a path to effective practice and personal development. Willson is also the author of Parking Reform Made Easy, Island Press (2013) and Parking Management for Smart Growth (2015). He consults with regional and local transportation agencies such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, cities, and developers of urban infill projects. 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.