Caution: Career Curves Ahead!

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on May 9, 2011 in , , | No Comments




The biggest myth regarding a career path is that it always resembles a ladder.

But the reality is that career paths, on average, don’t resemble a ladder. Judith Sills, Ph.D., Psychology Today, believes that careers actually can look like “…S-curves, hairpin turns, and long, flat stretches” too. She believes that it’s not what the path actually looks like in the end, but rather, “…smart steering and taking time to check out the scenery.” If you are looking for a new career or change of pace, try this free career quiz. Important advice to students and grads entering the workforce today.

While Employed

Often, employees experience periods when nothing seems to be going right, hitting a proverbial wall. The new boss talks about nothing but golf, (you hate golf), or that major funding for the nonprofit you’ve waited for falls through. Whatever your wall looks like, it’s there, and it’s not going away any time soon. Now what? Ms. Sills advocates doing nothing, “…you’ve got time…time is required to plot a strategy.” Remember, walls can force you to find a more interesting view.

Let what is going on actually sink in, things might look better with a little forward thinking. Perhaps you might find a different common ground with the golf-crazed new boss, or plot your course for another fund-raising activity. Just don’t throw in the towel out of frustration, opt for rational thinking. Do go through the usual anger, frustration, and short-term depression that comes with disappointments or major changes. Then, after throwing a good sized pity party, (confetti and noise makers optional) get to work on your strategy!

Maybe there’s a lesson in your new found situation, as one person discovered when he had to report to someone with, “…five years less seniority and 50 points less in IQ, I wanted to quit on the spot.” But after reigning in his ego, he realized he actually was in a good place; his wife worked nearby, his children’s school system was great, he couldn’t leave after honest soul-searching. What was his solution? He gave his new supervisor his complete support, helped him succeed, and when his boss was promoted, guess who got the bosses old job! Now that’s a great strategy.

Ms. Sills offers “hints for hard times” which are listed below:

  • Keep your big picture in mind. A wall that looms large in the specific situation may be less troublesome in the context of your whole life.
  • Figure out what you do best and find a way to do more of it. That will point your thinking in a productive direction.
  • Don’t focus on your company; focus on your skill-set. That’s what you are expanding, revitalizing, and ultimately marketing, whether inside your company or across the street.
  • The wall’s the time to look sideways. Say yes to every opportunity. Raise you hand often. Build bridges across departments and across your profession.
  • When you’re against the wall, lean hard on your supports. We get through hard times by drawing strength from friends, family, sports, culture, art–all resources necessary to recharge your thinking.

Don’t forget, if the situation turns out to be unbearable and you have to find another position, be sure to be re-marketing yourself in your own company. Morphing into someone your company really needs, in another department, is an excellent strategy.

If your wall happens to be stagnation and you need something more, Ms. Sills suggests, “You could use your annual review to express concerns about your professional plateau and have your manager outline specific steps to get you over the wall.” Just be sure the right approach is used–whining and anger won’t prompt the manager in the right direction. Stagnation is a real problem, too many people get stuck in a rut of their own digging. They need to take a fresh approach, look at their situation from a different perspective and discussion with a manager is a good starting point. But they shouldn’t stop there. An honest evaluation of the career path taken–without regrets–is necessary. Stagnant workers should ask themselves where they’d like to be 5-10 years down the road.

In Unemployment

Take this opportunity to honestly assess how you felt in your last job. Did you hit a wall? Were you stagnating, but kept working in the same job because you didn’t want to do the necessary work to change the situation? Did you hate going to work in the morning? If the answers were “yes”, you now have the time to make the changes.

Make a list of the things you didn’t like about your last job. Then list the things you did like. Next to the list of what you did like, now write down all the skills you used doing that part of your job. These are the skills you will want to use in your next job, be sure those are in the job description when applying for your next position. Also, make sure the list of things you didn’t like are taken into consideration when looking for a new job. Basically, don’t seek the exact same type of position again with the same tasks that you didn’t like.

Ditch the Ladder

Remember, your career path is not a cookie-cutter “ladder”, but rather it looks as unique as you do. Having said that, yes, you may want to continue to advance and “move up”, instead of constantly making lateral moves, or none at all. But keep in mind what you value before taking on the higher level position.

Don’t get caught up in what your coworkers are striving for, it’s probably all wrong for you. Define success in your own terms. If you value free time to pursue sports, volunteer work, or spend quality time with family and friends, advancement could prevent you from doing what you value most. Think carefully when it comes to the type of strategy you want to use on your career path. Look back at positions you’ve had in the past where you were happiest, acknowledge what contributed to that and try to duplicate it again. For some, that could mean taking a cut in pay and looping back, but it comes with the advantage that doing something you enjoy brings meaning to life.

What’s the view from your career path?