Taking the road less traveled
The trip might be longer, but the destination is worth the ride
It’s graduation season, which always makes me reminisce about my own journey.
As a student at the University of California, San Diego (Go Tritons!), I vacillated between a major in Film/Media and Communications. I knew I wanted to do something creative but was torn between my love of writing and the prospect of adding a visual aspect to tell a story through film.
College Amy was full of promise, creativity, and possibilities.
Not so much.
Like many, I was led to believe that I should follow a logical and predictable path. (Read: NOT creative.)
Our well-meaning parents, teachers, and advisors strongly encouraged us to pick a lane, earn a “practical” (definitely not my favorite word) degree, and get a job. From there, we should work hard and, over the years, advance up the ranks at that company.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?
But what happens when you find yourself wanting to deviate from that prescribed formula?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person changes jobs an average of 12 times* during their career—not including COVID- or The Great Resignation-related moves. That’s a whole lotta 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.
If this rings true, don’t worry; I’ve got you.
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 who has penned a mindfulness book, fiction, and numerous articles, ghostwritten thousands of social media posts and articles 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.
(Note: I’m pretty sure they still don’t.)
For many of us, the idea of working at the same company, in the same job, for decades seems not only improbable but, frankly, kind of boring. (#sorrynotsorry)
But that didn’t prevent me from feeling some degree of shame and guilt about not following a 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.
I’ve learned that while there’s nothing wrong with a more traditional career approach, it’s by no means the only way. So instead of clinging to a preconceived notion of what you “should” be doing, 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. Instead, 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 that weaves together your personal and professional experiences. (Yes, really.*)
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 experiences 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.
The key is to make your nonlinear career path an asset, not a liability.
Hey, if I can do it, so can you.
I’ve come full circle, embracing my creative inner child who delighted in writing stories and that college coed who intuitively knew that she’d find a way to put her talents to their highest and best use.
Even if it wasn’t “practical.”
And speaking of assets, in my latest Forbes article, I share how to combine attention and intention to move your career forward.
Shine on, and don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled, my friends!
P.S. When I’m not writing this newsletter or taking the road less traveled, I’m a social media ghostwriter. (Yep, that’s a thing). I help founders, entrepreneurs, and CXOs craft their stories to communicate and connect better by magnifying their reach and impact. (Think personal branding and thought leadership.) Learn more here.
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*And if you need professional help, contact me. When I work with clients on their Career Story packages, this is exactly what I do. And I’m delighted at the relief and pride they feel at finally feeling understood—and being able to tell their story.