A note on ‘messy’ career paths

Careers

March 18, 2021

Hands up who knew what they wanted to do with their career early on, went out there, did it and has been happily climbing the career ladder ever since?

Without pivots, unforeseen obstacles or set backs?

Now hands up who fell into a job? Ended up here by chance?

You guys, I’ve been saying this for years, chance plays a way bigger role in our careers than we give it credit for.

And it’s not just me saying this, there’s research behind this too.

The Planned Happenstance theory of career development (how awesome is that name btw?) reminds us that some of the best things are unplanned (a bit like some legendary nights out that started with you going out for ‘one’).

Planned Happenstance says don’t plan your career, plan for chance.

Engage in exploratory activities that increase the probability that you will be exposed to unexpected opportunities. If you want to know what generating chance actually looks like (you know me, I like to give you tangible steps) I’ve written about it in my blog on Planned Happenstance here

Biggest roadblock

The reason I wanted to write about this topic again is because I’ve been doing non-stop Breakthrough calls recently and all I hear is people being so hard on themselves for not having their calling figured out yet.

They beat themselves up for having ‘messy’ career paths, or for being a jack of all trades and master of none.

Sound familiar?

And all I want to say is: Stop! Stop shaming yourself and classifying your career as failed. Your career path to date, as random or messy as you may think it is, is actually:

A) More common thank you think

B) Not wasted time

C) Full of really precious experience (that you’re probably not seeing)

D) Much needed in this day and age

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy UK, says it better than me:

“The fact that some early stage careers are slightly messy or non-linear shouldn’t be a mark of shame…time spent d*cking around at what it is you really want to do isn’t really wasted. Although it may seems so at the time.”

Rory speaks from experience. He joined Ogilvy in 1998 as part of their graduate scheme and was named the worst graduate trainee they ever had.

He got fired from the planning department, but he re-applied to creative and became a copywriter.

Five years later he became an Executive Director and now he’s Vice Chairman.

Always persevere.

To quote Rory again (he’s very articulate, it’d be a shame not to):

“A certain degree of randomness certainly in your early career, in the long-term, pays off. It gives you versatility and breadth. The modern employee needs to be good at more than one thing.”

So please don’t doubt your randomness any longer.

You haven’t failed. It’s not over yet.

You have more experience than you give yourself credit for.

Chin up my friend, chance could be lurking round the corner for you.

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