A ‘Career Ladder’ Seem Pretty Damn Dated

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Terminology to define careers falls under a metaphoric family that does not describe today’s scene. We typically relate careers to a path, trajectory or ladder that suggests predefined, linear directions where up is the only way. Whether a Millennial or Baby Boomer, we find many around us are looking beyond conquering the top toward other lifestyle-driven goals. Let’s demystify what a career is these days and what the new metaphor is for professional progression.

When It Changed

You’re probably wondering how we could go decades without adjusting this metaphor. Everyone seemed content until ten-ish years ago when recessions, new family structures, global awareness and increased story-sharing made many reconsider how they judged others. This freedom allowed people to have more flexible and fluid identities, both personal and professional. With this extra exposure and broken barriers, we could expand in diagonal directions than just ascend.

The idea of a ‘good job’ also changed. The ‘good jobs’ of today might not provide the same security as they would in the past. This means we are more independent, in control and able to define our own success. Success doesn’t mean being connected to a large or prestigious company any longer. Success could be one fulfilling job; three side jobs; one crap job that leads to a dream job; or freelancing with one horrible job that pays the bills.

Many have also realised getting to the top has its debts payed in the form of health, relationships or energy. And there is no guarantee the top holds any more security, satisfaction or status than a level below. After watching the Baby Boomers head this direction, their Generation X and Millenial children knew to consider further options. And this is one thing Millenials can proudly be blamed of - exploring the possibilities, combinations and past faux pas’s of what it means to have a career.

How it Became a Prototyping Process

These days, I find myself balancing instinct with trial as my career develops. Instinct creates the imaginary barriers that help guide my exploration, while trial offers a process to progress within those boundaries. It’s more being able to bounce back and adapt, than dig in and rectify an absolute method. Knowing how to learn, testing out assumptions and gathering clues is a part of the detective work required to charter our sometimes uncharter-able and illogical career developments.

What I realised observing my own progression, and talking with pivoting professionals was that industries are changing quicker than most can complete a career cycle. A job could be here one day, and phased out or replaced by another skillset years later. This means the ladders we used to climb, or path we could follow are not dependable. We need to create our own career vehicles to manoeuvre these uncharted routes. This is why we need to create Career Prototypes than climb Career Ladders.

Career Prototypes allow us to try, adjust, discover, succeed and fail to finding solutions while setting aside following long-held formulas. There are no equations that calculate your new, shining opportunity from the sum of past experience, current interests and industry evolutions any longer. It’s more that every job, volunteer opportunity, travel adventure, coffee discussion or personal story becomes a clue to your next career move. It’s more ‘work in progress’ than masterpiece. With prototyping comes uncertainty, as it’s unclear what’s next or how we will actually get there. But the beauty in this is that we will be more grateful and excited by what’s to come.