Some people follow a straight, intentional career path from graduation to retirement. It’s a tidy scenario that appeals to many. But most of us don’t take this route. We follow a less-groomed path — a path with poorly-marked forks in the road. It’s not always clear which way to go. At times we find ourselves thinking, “More signage, please!”
I’ve been there. At first glance, my resume may seem odd. I’m a former running coach who has helped create postage stamps, DVDs, books and corporate training programs. Today, I’m a growth developer for a tech startup. The common thread: I love building things, whether it’s a high-functioning team or a killer website.
If you identify with the less-groomed path, too, you can blaze your own trail. By following your intuition, you’ll build a unique, fulfilling career. You may never feel like you’ve reached your destination, but maybe there isn’t one. You don’t need to know what you want to be when you grow up. But here are five things you don’t want to be:
Many entry-level jobs are boring by design. When seasoned employees get sick of a responsibility, it falls to the newbie. But that doesn’t mean you need to pay your dues forever. You deserve the opportunity to use your gifts at work. You deserve to have an opinion and make a difference.
Your boss might not notice you’re bored out of your mind. It’s your responsibility to stay engaged. If you’re feeling bored, speak up. But do yourself a favor — don’t utter the words “I’m bored.” Express the desire to take on more, learn a specific skill or collaborate with a new group of people.
You went to school for psychology or physics or philosophy, but that doesn’t need to limit your path. Early in your career, you went into banking or real estate or marketing. This doesn’t mean you need to spend the next 40 years doing that if you don’t love it. You have options — probably more than you realize.
Not happy with your career choices so far? Make proactive your middle name. (Click here to Tweet this thought.) Research what it would take to make a specific change. Read books, tap into your social networks and identify actionable ways to move toward your new target. Remember: people take career leaps every day. You can, too.
Money doesn’t buy happiness, but neither do back-breaking student loans and an ugly credit report. Even if you’re out to save the world, you don’t want to be broke. There’s a difference between living frugally (great!) and getting in over your head financially (not great).
Sometimes, you may need to make a strategic career move for financial reasons. Think of this as a big-picture decision, something that’ll help you do X, Y and Z down the road. And the big-picture rule goes both ways. Sometimes, it makes all the sense in the world to take a pay cut for an amazing opportunity.
Do yourself a favor — don’t work indefinitely for people who don’t really get you. Find employers who like the way you think. Find emotionally intelligent people who know how to recognize and support their employees.
In every job interview, suss out whether the job, company and coworkers are a good fit. Don’t allow your self-consciousness to drive the interview process. Yeah, you want them to want you, but you also want to work in a positive environment.
You’re not just a [insert job title here]. You’re a teacher who also loves organic gardening. Or a designer who likes to practice martial arts. Or a full-time parent with a passion for astronomy. Or maybe astrology. You bring your own unique spin to your job and life. That’s valuable.
Seemingly disparate passions converge all the time. Maybe you dream up your best work-related ideas while taking a bike ride or browsing a bookstore. Pouring 100 percent of your energy into your job is never the answer. Don’t forget to be a student of life. Make time for the people and hobbies that fuel you.
Emma Wilhelm loves punchy words and uphill battles. When she’s not driving growth for Mad Mimi, she relishes long runs, the family brewing biz and dance parties with her kids. Follow her on Twitter @emmasota.