Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Mike Curts. Mike has worked as a marketing director for the recruitment firm Driver Solutions, and has spent over 15 years involved in the trucking industry. He helped launch E-Gears in 2009, which is an online CDL test authority that specializes in a variety of study guides.
The traditional 1-2-3 path of picking a career, going to college and working to retirement is increasingly being viewed as an antiquated notion in the 21st century. In fact, many successful people have not followed a very straight line in their professional lives. Committing and focusing on a narrow career path is a difficult pill to swallow given how vague the future outcome might be in our constantly shifting job market. Instead, a narrowly defined approach is being challenged by a new school of thought that promotes career flexibility.
Most find it difficult to decide what would be their dream job, but even those who have a clear picture probably have an aptitude and affinity for more than one type of job. Perhaps there is no such thing as a perfect fit. However, like your favorite pair of jeans, what feels like a perfect fit is ideal enough. It is nearly impossible to know which career will be like that perfect pair of jeans without trying some on for size.
Some might argue that time spent developing yourself in different areas is a waste of effort (and possibly money) once you are invested in one career. The question I pose is, "Which is more of a waste: investing some of yourself into career paths you may not follow, or putting everything into a career that may or may not be the best fit for you?" I am not advocating that you set yourself up for failure in a career pursuit. I am advocating in keeping different career options in mind, and in following through by developing yourself to make more than one option viable down the road.
A diverse strategy
Certainly, there is a point where one can spread oneself too thin, but it is a good idea to become at least a jack of a few trades. And I don't mean simply shooting for a random assortment of unrelated professions. However, it is okay to have an alternative that is unrelated to your current career pursuits.
In a book published in February 2012, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and entrepreneur Ben Cosnocha recommended taking an ABZ approach to your career path. Plan A is what seems like your most attractive option at a given time, plan B is a similar or related option, and plan Z means altering your course a little more drastically. Z can be a safety net plan, a side career pursuit, or both. The world is always changing, and at some point, B or Z can end up becoming A - but it's always a good idea to have contingencies in mind.
Many people have some stigma about changing career paths, which is a self-defeating stance. Viewing career changes as professional failures is damaging to the pursuit of success, since nobody can say for certain where your success lies. As a society, too much of our self-worth seems to hinge on our income. You may have to take a pay cut if you steer your career in a new direction, but if it promotes your professional growth, it should be encouraged. If circumstances allow, taking a job that affords you time to pursue other career options may be the best thing.
Networking and social media
People are the best resource for career knowledge, and the best avenue into a career is through its existing professionals. Get to know them and what they like/dislike in their job, find out how their path took them there, etc. Career flexibility is greatly supported by building relationships with professionals in various fields.
Before our era of social media really took flight, it was a bit more difficult to do this. These days, communication is mobile and online, so building professional relationships is a very accessible option. You can reach out to those whose career paths you admire and present yourself however you deem best. The more you can learn from people who are where you would like to be, the better.
Wherever life takes you in career terms, it is not up to anyone else to determine who you are and what you will be. There are a lot of one-size-fits-all cookie cutter career solutions that are offered, but expecting change and preparing to take it in stride by developing flexibility is a bit more practical these days.