Career Resilience 2: Linear Careers
Before we dive into the concept of career resilience any further, let’s first figure out if we have, or even want a career. The dictionaries have a variety of definitions of the word ‘career’ but I suspect there are as many definitions out there as are there are people trying to follow one. There are, however, a few concepts that all the definitions agree upon:
- Firstly, it’s a series or progression of jobs and events
- Secondly, there is some sense of common skills and activity
- Thirdly, there is a notion of a definite direction or trajectory
- Finally, there is some idea of speed along that trajectory
To these elements, I would add an idea so fundamental that it’s often overlooked. That’s the idea of a unifying goal that drives our progress. Of course, careers can have a variety of goals: To earn $XXX by a given time; to achieve a certain job position; to be recognised as expert in your field; to retire with enough to live comfortably. These all seem to have a point destination and a single, direct line of sight to it. These can be considered as linear careers with linear goals. What’s more, these linear careers can be vertical… the traditional climbing up the corporate ladder to ever more ‘senior’ positions, or horizontal where the drive and ambition move laterally to build skills, networks and influence. There is a distinction here between positional power and influential or personal power but both sets of ambitions are consistent with a linear career.
But do you still have a career if your goals are NOT linear? What if your goals or ambitions are always to be working at something you enjoy? To try different things? To feel fulfilled in everything you do? To stretch your boundaries and learn new things? These goals are much more about the here and now, about the job you’re doing at present and much less focussed on a destination. Can one have a non-linear set of jobs and still call it a career? Does it matter that your career is not the classical vertical linear career? I’ll leave that for you to decide upon for your own career, but there are some pretty common concepts that you can use to help you navigate the world of jobs and careers whichever way you decide: linear career, horizontal, vertical or non-linear
- Have clear goals: It really doesn’t matter if your goals are towards a linear career, non-linear career or a combination of both. Nor does it matter if your progress is horizontal or vertical, or a combination of both. It does matter that you are clear about your ambitions and your goals. Career Resilience and Satisfaction will only come when you know that you’re doing something that you want to be doing. That’s why having career goals, and some kind of bench mark by which to track them, are so important. Too often we find ourselves stuck or dissatisfied in a job without knowing what the problem is. Go back to your goals and check if what you’re doing is meeting your linear and non-linear career aspirations.
- Resilience is here and now: Just because you have some goals for the future, and a sense of a linear career destination, there is no need to suspend happiness, fulfilment and satisfaction in the present. Every day you put off happiness for ‘jam tomorrow’ is another day of draining your resilience. We can think of our resilience as a kind of ‘contingency fund’. Every day we are fulfilled and satisfied, we are adding to our fund of resilience. Every day that we have to drag ourselves through, feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled, we are drawing from our resilience fund. Too many days like that and we’ll soon move into a resilience debt. Our ability to deal with life’s bumps and bends diminishes, our performance drops and our stress levels climb. Be fulfilled today and every day. Build your resilience, don’t drain it.
- Smell the Roses and savour the coffee: We often have our eyes so much on the far horizon that we forget to sense the wealth of what we have all around us now. We strive to do a good job and reach a high value outcome… and then what? We dive straight back into another task or challenge; we need to keep striving and driving along our linear career. If we take time to review what we’ve done and to celebrate our achievements we will be adding even more wealth to our resilience fund. High fliers are very good at recognising their successes and drawing their own strength from them. So stop and congratulate others, and yourself, for a job well done. You can be sure that tough times will come along soon enough and it’s great to have the confidence boost and reminders that you can deliver value in challenging times.
- Diversions are not setbacks: Life (and bosses!) have way of throwing us the odd curve ball. Even the most dedicated careerists get side-tracked from their primary career goals and are forced to take an indirect path. So how will you handle these diversions? This is where our non-linear goals really come into play. Sure, it may take us a little longer to reach one of our linear goals, but let’s make the most of it. What will we see and learn on this detour? Can we enjoy and learn from the detour in its own right? Ask yourself, “What’s the big picture impact of this side track?” Stressing about it will simply diminish your resilience but accepting, enjoying and learning from it will actually add to your resilience fund. I’m not a great believer in the phrase ‘what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger”. I see that as a way of people compensating or even excusing bad behavior and actions. In my view everything makes us stronger if we are prepared to harvest the value that every waking moment offers us. Who knows, this diversion may actually show the direction to totally different destination. Maybe the Universe is trying to tell you something?
- Constructive Opportunism: None of us have total control of our own destinies, but we are the only one’s responsible for it. We can lay down the most linear career plan in the world but we can only work with the opportunities that present themselves to us. That’s where the ‘opportunism’ element kicks in. New opportunities come by, every day of our lives. The real art is to recognise them when they float past. The most successful and famous people are humble enough to recognise that some degree of chance, or good luck, played a part in their success. Even when you’re totally happy where you are today, there may just be the next big thing coming along before you expect it. So, give new opportunities a good examination. It costs nothing to look. If it feels right to move, hop aboard. If not, simply hold back, enjoy what you’re doing now and wait for the next opportunity to come along. Of course, you can always cause more opportunities to come your way. You’ve heard about being in the right place at the right time? Live in the mainstream and make sure if anything is on the move, you will have the chance to encounter it. Networking, seeking advice from others, showing interest in new and exciting things are all ways to have opportunities come your way. So, be in the right places at the right times as often as you can. But don’t forget, sometimes the most exciting opportunity can to us out of ‘left field’. The chance encounter, the quirky suggestion can lead to greatness. So, keep your eyes and ears open and let opportunities present themselves to you. Let your opportunism be constructive.
Are you living the career you want? Have you mapped out if you have a linear career or otherwise? Are you as resilient as you might be? Here are some immediate actions you can take now, for your own career resilience:
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