If you feel unsure about your career path, you are definitely not alone. I think nearly everyone feels that way these days. Sometimes it helps to examine what “career path” means to you.
For many, a career path represents “upward” mobility in terms of knowledge, authority and money. Walking the path is about becoming specialized in your field, doing good work, gaining recognition, commanding more authority, and making more money. Moving upward is generally associated with power, money and recognition.
For others, a career path represents “outward” movement. So, if upward mobility is like riding a rocket ship, outward expansion is like “manifest destiny” — it’s continuously putting yourself “out there” and seeing what happens. Walking the path is about noticing what’s around you, creating opportunities, making new connections, and contributing value to the people you meet along the way. Moving outward is generally associated with relationships, meaning and happiness.
Many people are caught in the gulf between these two metaphors — not sure whether they want to move upward in terms of power and money or outward in terms of relationships and meaningful projects. However, in most cases, what they really want is both! I meet a lot of people who want to have it both ways — they want meaning and money, power and happiness — and they believe that’s asking for too much.
The big challenge with moving upward and outward is that you have have to bring all that you have onto the path with you. When you bring it all — your good qualities and bad qualities, your strengths and weaknesses, your personal values and your professional expertise — you will invariably find the resources to extend in unexpected and novel ways. With a “bring it all” mindset, you can reimagine your career path, shake loose these preconceived notions, and find yourself moving upward and outward.
In fact, you can start re-imagining your career path today by challenging yourself to discuss your views about what’s important to you with someone you trust and respect. Gather their insights and challenge your assumptions. Who knows what you might discover?