In the days before GPS, you didn’t take a trip to unfamiliar territory without a roadmap. If you did, you were likely to get lost and waste a lot of time trying to find your way again! The same is true of your hopes for career success.
Note that a roadmap can often include more than one route to a given destination. For example, you might want to stick to the freeways as much as possible to reach your destination quickly or you might be in the mood to amble along some country lanes and avoid the fast-track route. The point is that you might have a choice in how you get where you want to go. Maybe you don’t even care if it takes you halfway to forever to end up there.
When it comes to your career, though, halfway to forever is a long time to wander aimlessly. Time and other events might not work in your favor, either. While you’re dithering, your competitors might be sweeping past you on their way to the prize.
Sometimes I work with clients who tell me they kind of “fell into” their current career. Maybe an early job opportunity led to the next one in the same industry or they took the first job they found, just to pay the bills, and ended up staying in that field. In other words, they never made a conscious choice. They went with whatever crossed their path.
To stick with the roadmap analogy, these individuals started their journey without any specific destination in mind. In a few cases, it worked out all right for them–they really enjoyed and felt fulfilled in their careers. Others, however, were subtly or actively dissatisfied with their situation and felt stuck.
What’s your situation? Are you happy with where you are? Did you choose to go there? It’s all about (or a lot about) the choices we make, the ones we don’t make, and the ones we have to pass up because they conflict with the ones we’ve made.
I recently ran across an article that referenced one of my favorite poems, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” The article, “The ‘road not taken’ resume” by John Read, made for some interesting reading. He talked about what your resume might look like if you put in all the choices you didn’t make at various decision points in your life rather than listing all your jobs and successes.
Of course, Read wasn’t seriously suggesting that you submit such an unorthodox resume to potential employers, but he felt that going through the exercise might in some way enhance your conventional resume. As he put it, “Not so long ago, jobs and careers could be for life. Now, in this more dynamic and unstable economy, employment security is non-existent and job changes are a part of everyone’s work experience. You don’t need to be approaching retirement for there to be an appreciable number of these forks in the road under your belt, and mapping backwards through the choices you’ve made can be instructive.”
No one can expect to go through life without choices, whether those were made consciously or by default. Maybe we should all be doing some backward-looking to find out what it can tell us about where we are now, how we got there and–if desired–where we’d really like to go next.