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Rethinking the linear career path
Image by Jimmy Foulds

2 min read

Rethinking the linear career path

A lot of us had to rethink our careers and lives as the unimaginable happened. For many of us, it’s our first glimpse into a multidirectional career path. What can we take away from this, and what has it got to do with our comfort zones?

It’s safe to say that your job makes up a massive part of your life. But the days of choosing a career path and sticking to it are gone. According to the US Department of Labor, baby boomers held an average of 12.3 jobs in a span of 32 working years. This number is on track to get even higher with the younger generation. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.

Reflection and clarity of purpose

What do you want to do in 5 years? I got asked this a lot growing up, and I expected to know the answer eventually. Frankly, I thought I’d work my way to being an astronaut.

If you asked me that question now, I’d tell you that I still don’t really know.

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to come across someone who’s worked five jobs in entirely different industries or took a pay cut to be a startup founder. There are obvious benefits that stem from diverse experiences, settings, and roles. We’re seeing a growing trend of people trying out multiple positions, learning tons of skills, and testing different environments before finding out what they genuinely treasure and want to do for a living. Even when we’re clueless and without a plan, the process of elimination can help hone down what we enjoy.

Multiple projects and multidirectional paths

While the idea of a traditional career ladder still holds true to some, the past few years have seen the rise of the gig economy as well as growth in the freelancing and contracting worlds, where less commitment is typically needed towards a single employer. In particular, millions of employees lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and this allowed many to pursue side projects, like selling crafts or innovating to serve their communities. For the first time, many corporate workers had the chance to enjoy flexibility in their work to balance other aspects of life, and this is a trend that will continue to grow.

Upskilling and transferring knowledge

When it comes to a winding, non-uniform career, what binds it together are skills, mindset, and experience. A non-linear career doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re changing jobs all the time, but you think about work dynamically and maintain a growth mindset. How do you learn and develop your skills to ensure you don’t need to be “stuck” in the same role forever?

It’s not very often that we see new industries get born in our lifetime. But here we are. People employed by cannabis, cryptocurrency, and artificial intelligence companies probably didn’t plan on working in these areas. What helps them are transferable skills like creativity, analytical thinking, and co-creation, as well as being proactive with equipping themselves with the latest information.

Personal brand and connections

With the mass layoffs that happened in 2020, employees realized that working for large corporations doesn’t necessarily mean job security. Unprecedented competition in the job market means that we’re getting deeper into the era of personal brand. Networking can be stressful, but building relationships and staying in touch with the latest thought leaders is crucial to learn what possibilities are out there and what career is a good fit for your unique personality and style.

How does this impact employers?

The fast-moving, changing nature of these new career paths means corporate environments are also learning to offer mobility and flexibility to their employees. There’s been increasing challenges on the retention, productivity, engagement front, notably towards the soon-dominating Gen-Z workforce. People are invested in looking for opportunities that support their values and work in alignment with their lifestyle. In terms of leadership, traits like empathy, compassion, and honest communication are must-haves to ensure a united and fulfilled team.

Conclusion

Gone are the days where you jump headfirst into a corporate environment and envision getting promoted there for the next four decades. There are more choices and opportunities than we think, as long as we keep an open mind. Like life, let’s ditch the career ladder/compass/map (whatever you call it) and embrace the squiggly line.

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Faye Wai

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