Should you plan each step of your career, or wing it?

The question "where do you see yourself in five years?" is the one many of us fear the most in job interviews.

Frankly, it can be a challenge just to plan this week's meals, let alone have a lifetime plan for your career.

I get it, it can be daunting to think long term, and I'm here to tell you that there can be some validity to "winging it".

We all listen to career advisors, who like to tell us that we need to map out our plans for the future.

Indeed, I've gone through this process more than once with various clients over the years. And this is a great way to manage the process, if you are a planner.

However, trying to force someone who doesn't even want to commit to ZipPay payments - because who knows what they'll be doing next month - into mapping out their career in black and white, can be as useful as a chocolate teapot.

You don't need me to tell you that each of us is different, but perhaps we could all use some reminding about the fact that it's OK to not fit the mould appropriate for generalist advice.

The drawback to being a planner that is often not spoken about is the natural aversion to diverging from a plan when it is in place.

For example, a huge and exciting opportunity might come out of left field.

It might offer new experiences, travel to far-away lands, the chance to build new and exciting skills ... but it also sends you off on a tangent.

If you are a planner, this opportunity may actually sail by you without you even noticing it because it's not part of your established plan.

However, if you do pick it up on your radar, you have a decision to make.

If you are working towards a five-year goal, and this will change your trajectory, you need to decide whether or not the opportunity is worth the risk.

You might like to sit down and consider how this could change your five-year projection and whether this road offers fulfilling and purposeful career goals down the track as well, or whether it is likely to end in a dead-end.

You don't need me to tell you that each of us is different, but perhaps we could all use some reminding about the fact that it's OK to not fit the mould appropriate for generalist advice.

If you are a winger, you are more likely to recognise the opportunity and be willing to entertain the possibility of side-stepping into this new tangent.

Without a five-year plan, you won't be focusing on the long-term impact of this move.

Rather, you will be considering the short-term gain, with the belief that something else will come up along the way that could send you off on another tangent.

The perceived risk of jumping at the opportunity is lower, because the implications are short term, not long term.

SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based) goals can be fantastic tools to help focus our energies and create a sense of purpose and drive, while ensuring that we have a raison d'être that can be quickly summarised in a pert elevator pitch.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

And, if you are a natural planner, this is a great way to manage your career and stay in the driver's seat of your projection.

However, if you are not a natural goal setter, your values and focus in work is more likely to be focused on the here and now, fuelled by an innate sense of faith that it'll all work out in the end.

Trying to set SMART goals to plan out your future can feel stifling and leave you with an inescapable sense of being trapped on a certain pathway.

As with most things, the middle ground is the ideal road to take.

Formulate an idea of what you want to do and where you want to do it and be open to new opportunities as they arise, with a mind for recognising the risks and possibilities of such a trajectory change.

Life is short, and we all make mistakes at some point.

I read somewhere that what's important is not the mistake you make, but what you do afterwards that is important.

If you aren't a natural planner, don't force it. The things we are the most natural at is where we find our niche.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au