We are in an age where new career choices are now available that were not an option only a decade or two ago. You could be a content creator, graphics designer, app developer, voice coach, trek guide, fitness trainer, and much more. And many of us could have multiple careers in the same life. Something our parents had not heard of or considered.
While choice is good, it also leads to confusion.
Having a range of potential careers ahead of us makes us wander off the path. This by itself is not a problem, as having more experiences enriches us.
Are we, however, wandering, in full awareness or as an accident?
Are we letting our careers happen and then giving it a storyline later?
Can we be more intentional about our careers?
Or we should go with the flow?
I believe we can and should be intentional about our careers.
Intentional does not mean we will have plans and all of them will come true. Intentional means having a clear overarching narrative or theme to your career and exploring that theme in every opportunity you come across.
Our parents or grandparents perhaps had only one career in their entire working life. My generation has seen two and at times three careers. The next is likely to see more shifts. If we are not intentional about our shifts, we could see massive swings and declines in our careers.
I will share my example. Early in my career, I was clear I wanted to build a career in quality management. I built competencies and sought roles which would help me make an impact and stay close to my declared intention. Over the years the field of quality, however, has changed. And I have tried to move with it. I had a clear intention, a theme I was interested in. Within that theme, I had the flexibility to explore.
What are these career shifts?
Imagine a Venn diagram of your current career and next career. Your move can be seen as an overlap, an intersection, and an adjacent space.
When you try and move to a similar career, you often don’t see much risk, salary changes and minimal, and you don’t have to learn a new skill. This is usually a similar role in another company. This is an overlapping move.
When you move to a different career which is similar in some ways and needs skills learnt in your current career then the move has an intersection. You will see some risks, maybe a higher salary change, and you surely will have to learn a new skill. This is not a drastic move and you can carry the skills and confidence of your current career to your next.
An example of the intersection move could be a classroom teacher moving to an online mode. The core skills are the same but the medium changes.
The third and the most complex change is that of moving to an adjacent space. This requires completely new skill sets and comes with high risk, reward, and investments. These are the stories you read in the media. While the outcome looks good when it works, there are many failures as well. The risk is higher.
An example of the adjacent space could be someone moving from a job in banking to setting up a pre-school for young kids.
Each move has risk, reward, and investment associated with it. But every move has a common underlying thread: your intention behind the kind of opportunities you pick and whether they lead you to the body of work you wish to create. Regardless of the risk involved, all career decisions have to finally add up and point towards that overarching intention.
This way of understanding career moves is not entirely new.
Cal Newport in his multiple books has talked of how major disruptions and advancements in science happen at the edge of knowledge in one area. There are multiple studies of scientific inventions happening at the same time in two or more parts of the world by un-related scientists. This indicates that the knowledge in one area had advanced such that another path-breaking discovery was bound to happen.
The same sometimes happens in our careers when we move to the edge of one career and take a leap. Sometimes, what happens after you take a leap may not be very clear. (That's why it's called a leap of faith!). But as long as you have a strong gut intuition about the leap landing you in a place that helps you move forward and build on top of your underlying narrative, you're making the right decision.
Regardless of failure or success in that endeavour, you will undoubtedly have learned many new things that indirectly benefit your long-term career intention.
What can we do about this?
Firstly, awareness helps us understand that a career is a marathon and not a sprint. Building an intentional career is about working in one direction and keep adding skills that could complement and enhance your choice.
Fortunately, adding skills is not as difficult as it used to be. One does not always need a formal education to add skills. Explore other mediums and formats as you complement your skills.
But before all that. Make a choice. A choice to have an intentional career and not an accidental one.
This guest article is written by Anshuman Tiwari. Anshuman is a Cross Industry Quality Leader. He mentors early and mid-career professionals to manage better and is a part of the LinkedIn Top Voices 2022 and LinkedIn India Creator Accelerator program. You can connect with him here.