By Sejal Jamnadas
‘So, where do you want to go in your career?’ is probably the hardest question anybody could ever ask me.
Firstly, because I don’t have actually have a ‘good’ answer. You know, like all those people who can ramble on their 5 and 10 year career plans and know exactly what industry they will be working in.
Secondly, I feel like the questioner will instantly judge my competence or potential for ‘success’ based on the clarity of my answer. It’s something along the lines of “Oh, I think I’ll be a manager in the next 5 years” or “I’m not entirely sure yet, I haven’t given it much thought”.
If I say the latter, I can feel almost always sense the drop in tone of the person’s response of “Oh…okay…true”. It’s awkward to say that least and the conversation is abruptly changed to the plans for the weekend (which still happens to be 4 days away). Have I made my point yet?
There are absolutely zero empirical studies which correlate your ability to define clear career goals with that individual’s competence or potential for ‘success’. Goal-setting is important if you know fairly well what you want; but let’s cop some slack for those career ‘floaters’ who are too wildly curious about everything to be fixated on one career aspiration.
You won’t have to look too far to see there are many successful people that dramatically changed careers at all stages of life. Martha Stewart was a full-time model and then did a short stint as a stockbroker in Wall Street before turning to gourmet cooking with recipe collections valued at more than $400 million. Ellen Degeneres worked as a paralegal before she became one of the funniest and most popular talk show hosts in America. There are countless stories such as these that exemplify the myriad of pathways we might take to have a variety of careers.
The problem for most people sometimes comes from the comparative pressures from colleagues that have studied the same degree and work in the same career level. It’s easy to compare success based on career progression and wealth, when everyone is trying to follow the exact same path. In saying that, these pressures are very much self-induced and can be tackled by embracing the fear of the unknown. In short, my bite-sized tips for being OKAY with not knowing where you’re going in your career:
You have an opportunity to learn a new transferrable skill each day; whether it’s a nifty trick on excel or learning to deal with a difficult co-worker.
You will make life-long friends and networks you can reach out to no matter where you go.
You are learning to be both flexible and resilient when the work gets touch.
You are wildly curious and open to trying new ideas, activities and career paths. Who knows what exciting new opportunity might come knocking at your door tomorrow?
The way I see it, you’ve widened your lens to all the world’s opportunities, picking up bits and pieces to create your unique brand. Why be a metal cog in the machine, when you can be stretchy rubber that fits into any system or industry that appeals to you?
One thing is certain though – in the next 12 months, 2 years, 20 years – I’ll continue to be just a little bit nerdy, quirky, ambitious and fascinated by people. I’ll also be covering my grey hair, probably still eating brunch and drawing all over whiteboards. I hope that answers your question.