Evolve Your Career: Don’t wait to climb the ladder, create your own path instead


In this day and age, the traditional approach to climb the career ladder is outdated. We need to create our own paths, be flexible and learn over the 40 years of our career.

“Over time, a career comes out of our willingess to learn.”

The mindset here is different – from following a pre-determined route on a map with clear start and end points to creating our own path and taking each step towards our career aspiration. So instead of climbing the ladder, we evolve our career.

Fast Changing World at Work

The rate of change in organizations has significantly increased. In my career workshops, I ask who has not undergone a restructuring in the past 18 months. Nobody raises their hands.

Indeed, studies show that 41% of organizations have recently completed or are undergoing a significant transformation and another 47% are preparing to do so. Organizations are continuously changing in response to the forces of technology and globalization. Jobs shift to areas of lowest cost. Automation makes some jobs redundant and places more demands on existing jobs.

With so much change going on, any structured career path, once laid down on paper, becomes obsolete. Following a fixed career path or ladder is not realistic nowadays.

In response, we need a flexible learning mindset. This mindset is defined by remaining comfortable when there is low control and low certainty. It also involves keeping an open mind with regard to the natural evolution of one’s career.

Embracing the Unknown

In the past, a career path was mostly predictable. For example, let’s say you need to drive from Singapore to Melaka. You have a car with GPS and you have a map where all the roads are laid out for you. You know where to go, how to get there and even how long it will takes. Your road journey path is like a traditional career path – predictable and assured.

“These days navigating one’s career can be likened to navigating in the wilderness. There are no set paths and there is no GPS to give instructions. The path is not certain or predictable. You only have a map, a compass and a set of directions.”

If you have a rough idea of where you want to go, you can move in the general direction. Yet, you are not sure if you need to head into the valley, climb the mountain or camp for a bit on the riverbank when you find something interesting there.

In short, your destination, your choices and your way are up to you. You create your own path.

Creating a Career at Every Step

Most of the people I interviewed didn’t know what they wanted exactly at the beginning of their careers. However, that didn’t stop them from seizing opportunities and creating their own paths.

Jenna is the head of HR of a luxury brand company. She started in retail, became a boutique manager and was subsequently a training manager for 8 years before her current role. She loves challenges and likes to get out of her comfort zone to learn new things. At every stage, she learnt and did well, and cultivated a positive reputation as someone who knows the organization and willing to learn to do well.

An engineer, Ajayan, started in lean sigma projects. He found that he enjoyed working with people more than machines. He also demonstrated his people skills in the process. His boss saw this and suggested he takes on more people management roles. He grabbed a subsequent opportunity to be a project manager. After achieving a diploma in HR management, Ajayan was ready to take a new role and switched from an engineer to a learning and development manager.

Organic View of Career

When predictable career paths are a thing of the past, the best thing you can do is to take an organic approach toward your career. Unpredictability can cause anxiety, since it involved the unknown. But it also provides a lot of possibilities.

You don’t need to wait until your manager tells you how will your career develop next, nor your organization to map out your career path. By being proactive, you can direct your career and walk your own path.

You know yourself. You know the general direction you want to go. Stay open to new possibilities. When you are at a crossroads, get your bearings and take the opportunities even though they make you nervous. You can always learn, unlearn and relearn. Savor the journey. Don’t forget to look back and see how far you have come.

Published in The Straits Times on 2 May 2015
Written by Wendy Tan

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