For 3 years, my son was obsessed with everything dinosaurs. That’s all he wanted to read, learn, and talk about. He learnt the alphabets by citing dinosaur names from A to Z. He loaded his little brain with dinosaur facts and drew a million pictures of dinosaurs. He declared his dream vacation to be a trip to the Gobi Desert, where a lot of dinosaur fossils have been found. He wanted to be a fossil hunter who fights fire in his spare time when he grows up.
Then, everything took a sharp and sudden turn after we visited an exhibit about the Titanic. All of a sudden our floor was covered in drawings of the Titanic and different British ocean liners. I find myself engaged in conversations about how much coal the Titanic was burning a day, or what a person’s chance of survival was during the Titanic sinking depending on their social economic class and gender. He now wants to become the person that builds the biggest ship in the world.
Watching my son’s shift in interests makes me think about the way we approach our career journey. When my son was into dinosaurs, he could never imagine the day when he would be interested in something else. People are similar with their careers. Too often, people have a hard time seeing beyond their current job or occupation. Some folks may think of progression as working towards their boss’ job. Beyond that, people often have a hard time connecting what they’re working on now and how that might translate to what’s next. And since people don’t have a framework to think about that, they just ignore it. They put their head down, work hard, and hope that things will work themselves out in the long run.
In some instances, with the right amount of luck, things do work out. But more often than not, people are caught off guard when they’re forced to pivot due to unexpected changes in their organizations. These folks often feel lost as they have not given their next career move much thought. Many find that their skills and knowledge are narrowly focused on what they’ve been dyour-next-career-pivot-is-coming-sooner-than-you-think-will-you-be-ready-for-itoing, and not necessarily aligned with what they might want to do next. Worst of all, they’re at the mercy of the labour market because they’re often under a serious time crunch to find something else.
So what’s the alternative? Here are 4 things you can do to take back control over your career journey, despite all the unexpected twists and turns.
1. Pursue your interests.
What are you curious about? What do you find interesting or intriguing? Take time to pursue interests that aren’t directly related to your work. Read books, listen to podcasts, attend events, volunteer, or experiment in your spare time. By pursuing your interests, you’re building up valuable skills, experience, contacts, and insights that will be essential to your ability to pivot when you want or need to. And you never know, these skills, experience, contacts, and insights may actually connect back to your current work in unexpected ways. Innovations often happen at the intersections of disciplines.
2. Make time for your interests.
That brings me to my second point, which is to make time for this to happen. I get it, we’re all busy. Sometimes it feels like there’s not enough time in the day to get through all the things you NEED to do, let alone make time for the nice-to-haves like interests and hobbies. But I assure you, this is a worthy investment of time.
As I mentioned above, pursuing your interests help you build valuable skills and experience that would be essential to your ability to pivot. It also gives you some much-needed creative rest after hours, so that you can unplug from work by engaging in something else. This important refresh allows you to return to work with renewed energy and creativity.
To me, this is also a form of self-care. Do you respect and care enough for yourself to prioritize your need to play, explore, and grow? I sincerely hope the answer is yes.
3. Maintain your network.
Some of my clients cringe whenever the term “network” comes up. To some, it feels like a lot of work. Worse, it’s often work that they hate doing. To others, it feels sleazy, because they think of networking as taking advantage of people or pretending to be someone they’re not.
Well, if you find yourself nodding along to those sentences, I have good news! None of those things are true. To me, developing and maintaining my network simply means identifying the people that I would love to stay in touch with, and you guessed it, staying in touch with those people! Everyone will have their own criteria for who they want to stay in touch with. For me, those that I want to stay in touch with are those that I admire, respect, and really enjoy their company.
I also make it easy and simple to stay in touch. Whenever I think of someone (usually because something reminded me of them that day), I send them a quick message. If I’m busy and don’t have capacity for a longer engagement, I just share what reminded me of them, and wish them a great day. If I have more time and am in a social mood, I try to schedule a call or a visit. For folks who don’t live in the same city as me, this usually means a zoom meeting. For those in the same city, I love connecting over a coffee, lunch, or a walk through some nice green space. Depending on the time of the year and what’s going on, I may have a few connections scheduled every week, or I may go for a couple months without something in my calendar. The goals of these connections are often to get to know the person better, hear their thoughts on certain topics, or just catch up on what’s going on with hem.
This practice allows me to have a strong network that I feel comfortable and confident tapping into whenever I need something, whether that’s for myself or someone I know.
4. Take risks and jump before you feel 100% ready.
I have a strong appetite for change, which pushes me to seek a job change every 2-3 years. Each time I switched jobs or organizations, my learning and growth increased exponentially.
Yet, except for my very first job out of university, I had never felt 100% ready for any of the other opportunities that came my way. At times, I felt the need to do a double-take: “Me? You’re picking me? Are you sure about that?”. The imposter syndrome followed me into many rooms and conversations, making me question when people would find out that I was a fraud and didn’t actually belong at that table or in that room.
Thankfully, I had plenty of help from colleagues, leaders, and mentors to help me quiet that imposter voice. I surrounded myself with people whom I trusted to tell me what I needed to hear. Through both positive and critical feedback, they helped me gain a more objective perspective of my skills, knowledge, and strengths.
When you’re presented with a new opportunity, take a pause to evaluate whether it fits your interests, goals, and work styles. But don’t worry about evaluating whether you’re the ready for that job, leave it to the people doing the hiring. It's their job ;).