Warning: If for years you’ve managed to find success and fulfillment in the same profession at the same organization, this article may not be for you.
But if this doesn’t describe you (and you’ve secretly felt bad about it), keep reading.
Many of us were led to believe that to be successful our careers should follow a logical and predictable path. Our well-meaning parents, teachers and advisors strongly encouraged us to pick a lane, earn a practical degree (or maybe two), and get a job. From there, we should work hard and over the years, advance up the ranks at that company.
If you’re lucky enough to have your career work out that way, it’s wonderful. But what happens when you find yourself wanting to deviate from that prescribed formula?
Just ask Sara Blakely, Richard Branson, and Gary Vaynerchuk, to name a few.
Of course, career shifts aren’t limited to well-known leaders. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person changes jobs an average of 12 times during his or her career. Whether fueled by curiosityor a desire to increase one’s adaptability and spread their wings professionally, that’s a lot of transition. Yet even with all that movement, we still fret over the perception of being a job hopper, particularly if our changes involve new industries and roles.
Here are three ways to make your non-linear career path work for—instead of against—you:
1. Lose the guilt and shame.
Maybe, like me, you’ve had a career with lots of twists and turns. My professional experience includes film, advertising, marketing, branding, travel and tourism, and voiceover work. I’m also an author, penned fiction and numerous articles, ghostwritten social media and books for leaders, and even written song lyrics. Unlike some members of my family, I didn’t have a “logical” sequence of education and jobs. And most of the time, my parents never quite knew what I did for a living.
For many of us, the idea of working at the same company, in the job, for decades seems not only improbable but frankly, kind of boring. But that didn’t prevent me from feeling some degree of shame and guilt about not following a “practical” and predictable path. In fact, for years, I was afraid to embrace my creative gifts as a viable and legitimate career instead of a mere hobby.
What I’ve come to learn is while there’s nothing wrong with a more traditional career approach, it’s by no means the only way. Shift your mindset to move past any preconceived notion of what you “should” be doing and congratulate yourself on having the courage to create a new path—one that is uniquely yours. As one of my favorites, Brené Brown, says: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
2. Think of your career as a series of “seasons.”
Recently, I’ve had several conversations with friends about the trajectory and future of our careers. These friends are accomplished professionals, in a variety of industries, and represent both the entrepreneurial and corporate sides of business. One term that has come up, again and again, is the concept of “seasons” of your career.
Let’s be clear: By “seasons,” I’m not referring to one’s age or stage of life. What I’m speaking of is aligning your talents and interests with their highest and best use at this time.
For someone who has a ton of industry expertise, this might mean they explore a season of teaching or speaking. For someone just starting out in their career, and eager to learn quickly about many facets of business, perhaps they pursue a season of startups. Deciding to take a chance in these new environments can help you grow and gain new skills and experience. That said, it’s important to remember that by definition, a season doesn’t last forever, and will have a conclusion. But the beauty is that these endings make way for new beginnings…and new seasons.
When you reframe your career this way and allow the “seasons” to build on one another, you’ll naturally amass a wealth of exciting and valuable experience.
3. Find your common thread(s) and weave together your unique career story.
Even if you’ve had seemingly unrelated jobs in vastly different industries, you can always find a common thread (or two) that weaves together your personal and professional experiences. Also, consider your transferable skills and talents that transcend industry or job junction. Perhaps you were the go-to person who introduced new products and services in your roles in the finance, consumer electronics, and packaged goods industries? Or maybe your scientific roots fostered a love of research, digging for answers and solutions to help bring greater operational efficiency to various sectors?
Some of the most interesting and successful people I know have found a way to make their varied experience work for them. Instead of talking about their journey as jumping from gig to gig, they find the common thread that connects the dots of their career—and quickly becomes their point of differentiation.