A few years ago I posted about one of my favorite Steve Jobs' stories:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life (my emphasis). But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later." (My emphasis)
There was a time when clear career paths and stable work meant that we could see a clear progression in front of us. If I get this degree and this job and follow these rules, then I will have a clearly-defined path in front of me.
But this is no longer the case. There is too much uncertainty in the world and we know less and less about a what a future 5 years down the road may look like. The only certainty we have is ourselves, our core strengths and passions, and how we apply those strengths and passions to the opportunities that present themselves.
A clear career path now can only be seen in the rear view mirror, the thread holding it together our vision for what we want and the opportunities we pursued. Our key career management strategies are knowing our strengths, following our passions and seeing the opportunities in ongoing change. Our career goal is to keep finding the intersection between who we are, what we love, and the experiences we encounter along the way. This is both insanely easy and amazingly hard.