“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.”
Conventional career wisdom advises that we should spend time knowing exactly where want to go and then take steps to get there. This wisdom assumes that there is some clear destination (a job) with a clear path of preparation that will take us to that destination. Our goal, then, is to figure out which destination feels best to us and then to follow the path toward that destination.
This wisdom is outdated though. It doesn't work for the majority of people and it doesn't work for the world we now live in.
When jobs were fixed quantities and career paths were clearly defined, then figuring out what you wanted to be when you grew up and preparing for that job made sense. But we now live in a world where careers are increasingly fluid and jobs are becoming more amorphous, as much about "other duties as assigned" as the other tasks that appear in a job description.
Work is moving fast and we can't anticipate where the next opportunities will be. The paths are becoming less and less clear and the destinations can vanish almost as soon as we arrive at them. I know tons of people who prepared for specific jobs, only to find that then they were finished with their preparation, the jobs were gone. It's like preparing for a trip, traveling to your dream city and then finding that you're blocked at the entrance and can't get in. Or that the city has vanished altogether.
I've also found that focusing too rigidily on a particular career destination--a specific job--can be paralyzing for many people. They become fixated on picking the "right" path and doing all the "right" things to follow that path. They take endless career assessments and beat themselves up over their inability to decide where they want to go. They become less able to imagine other possibilities because their minds go round and round on the same well-worn grooves of what they might do.
The problem is, they have made themselves so fearful of making the "wrong" move, they don't move at all! They remain frozen in place, trying ot make up their minds about where they should go. But real career growth only occurs when we start taking steps towards what we want. We need the experiences to tell us what does and doesn't work for us. Each of these experiences helps us make micro-adjustments in the path we are on. We move or we stand still. Those are our two choices.
- We know our gifts and the skills we want to use and we work on developing those skills. We build on our strengths, not necessarily with any particular job in mind. Developing ourselves in the direction of what we love and what we're good at is the essence of "direction-based planning."
- We are alert to opportunities where we can use our skills in different contexts. We are creative and flexible and open. We create our own jobs.
- We do not wait for a destination to reveal itself to us before we move forward. This is a sure road to paralysis. Instead, we take daily steps in the direction we want to go. We give ourselves what we want more of, knowing that this is moving us toward the work that we want to do, even when the destination itself is unclear.
- We "fail forward," being willing to experiment and try things out, recognizing that it's the experiences themselves and what we learn from them that will propel us forward. Even if things don't work out in that particular moment, it's OK because it's all taking us in the general direction we want to go.
Although I think destination can be a good thing for some jobs and some people, I think that for many of us, direction is the best way for us to move forward. We need to let go of having a fixed destination before we can start the journey. We need to just figure out the basic direction we want to go in and start walking. . .