Growing up I watched most adults in my life pursue and stick with one generally linear career track (my dad still works for the same company he started with 32 years ago and my mother has always stayed a home). From the time I got ideas about what I wanted to study and do with my life I naturally started putting my life plans together in a similar fashion. Lo, and behold, life didn’t go according to the ideal plan. I realized what my strengths were and were not and changed my major, and altered my plans. Then I got married and factored in my husband and factored our plans together. I always planned on graduate school and careers that required in, but I didn’t do it as the time I had planned on. Kids, several moves, and general growing up caused me to reshuffle again and again. Suddenly my life plans and career track looked more like a meandering maze than the direct path I had intended. Surprise, surprise.
But as I’ve been thinking about the “ideal” against real life as I am turning a new page now and enrolled in graduate school to prepare for the career I have been dreaming of for so long, I wonder why it came as such a surprise. More and more people are experiencing career fluctuation and less than linear life tracks than in the past. It is more common to make a bold move or shift to accommodate real life events, opportunities, and challenges. I fall into that category of people taking the indirect career path. I’m glad for the flexibility and the growing acceptability and embrace of the non-linear track; but that doesn’t quite make it easy to sort out all the gray matter in this gray area: What to do? How to do it? When to do it? Gah. I’ve spent so much time asking those questions and trying to determine the correct answer. My own decisions are really personal and I hesitate to talk too much about it least someone else judge too harshly, too quickly.
The only universal truth I’ve figured so far is there isn’t one. We all get to figure it out for ourselves. What works (or even working in the traditional sense) for one isn’t an option for someone else. So today, as we are talking about work and careers this month, I’d like to say: let’s discuss. Has your career path been simple and clear cut, or have you felt like the path you’ve faced or are still navigating is a bit more complicated and surprising than you had anticipated?
As someone in the middle, and grateful for others with shared experience, I would love to hear from you and how you are muddling through. Discuss.