Were you led to believe that to be successful, you should follow a logical and predictable career path? Well-meaning parents, teachers, and advisors strongly encouraged you to pick a lane, earn a “practical” degree, and get a job. From there, you should work hard and, over the years, advance up the ranks at that company.
But what happens when you find yourself wanting to deviate from that prescribed formula?
Just because you’ve always been or done one thing doesn’t mean you can’t—or shouldn’t—evolve and grow into a new role, industry, or profession.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person changes jobs 12 times during their career. And coupled with a years-long global pandemic, market uncertainty, and a rush of career pivots, that number has likely increased.
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. The key is to view your non-linear career as an asset, not a liability.
Here are the three best ways to embrace it:
1. Lose the shame and guilt.
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’ve also penned a mindfulness book, fiction, and numerous articles, ghostwritten thousands of social media posts and articles for founders, and even written song lyrics. And I’m currently in the midst of adding to my professional repertoire.
For many of us, the idea of working at the same company, in the same job, for decades seems not only improbable but, frankly, boring.
But that didn’t prevent me from feeling shame and guilt about not following a linear path. In fact, for years, I was afraid to embrace my creative gifts as a viable and legitimate career instead of a mere hobby.
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 that’s uniquely yours.
2. Reframe 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 various industries and represent the entrepreneurial and corporate sides of business. One term that has come up repeatedly 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. I’m speaking of aligning your talents and interests with their highest and best use at this time.
For someone with a ton of industry expertise, this might mean they explore a season of teaching or speaking. For someone just starting their career and eager to learn quickly about many facets of business, they may 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 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. Identify your common thread(s) and weave your unique career story together.
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. You may be 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 by highlighting their value. 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.
By embracing your non-linear career, you’ll see that it’s an asset, not a liability.
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