Why more people are following a nonlinear career path
Children are often asked what they want to be when they grow up. Some would say they want to be a police officer, a lawyer, a firefighter, a pilot, a doctor, among others. But notice how they would change their mind when you ask them again at another chance. They would pause and say they want to be an actor or singer this time because they recently got to see Ariana Grande sing or watched a movie they enjoyed so much.
Nowadays, even adults shift their careers as fast as they can say “I wanna get out”. While that may not be as easy if you are a doctor or astronaut given the long education process you had to finish, a nonlinear career path seems to be prevalent among the current workforce.
One’s career no longer follows a single line of progression: finish college – take first job – get promotion – get another promotion – reach executive level position – retirement. Now it’s more like: finish high school – choose secondary program – work part time – change program – go on a hiatus for a year – go back to program – get full-time job – move to another job – take another break for 6 months – finish a certificate course- work full-time – go on early retirement – work part time. It’s a maze of options that’s become the norm instead of a ladder envisioned by our parents when we were young.
I had my first job as collections agent in a bank just to get off the ground instead of working in Human Resources given my Industrial Psychology degree. I swerved from the get-go because truth be told, I only went to college just for the heck of it. Although I’ve learned a lot from it, Psychology is not my passion. In fact to this day, i believe it should be relegated to being a pseudoscience practice. My four years of studying it are put to waste.
Then i was laid off after a year because of a merger. So I took it as an opportunity to get a crash course on web programming and then I heard about a job opening in an airline company as a ticketing agent. To cut the long story short, i’ve been on different occupations myself, getting promotions, having downgraded to a lower position by choice, to early retirement and then taking part time consultancy in a marketing firm.
When I went from senior manager to associate position, it didn’t feel degrading to me despite what other traditionalists say because I wanted to slow down my pace and I’ve had enough of all the pressures and stress that come with being a manager. And I’ve basically hit a wall. For once I felt more relaxed being given a fixed set of duties, doing the legwork instead of managing a group of individuals.
A nonlinear path could also be a result of late discovery. Sometimes you only find out you are good at something when you had an accidental opportunity which could cause a detour from your straight line. As a Senior Operations Manager, I got exposed to practically all facets of our business such as customer service, telemarketing, web marketing, administration, logistics, and even accounting. When our copywriter was not around, I would pinch hit for him because I was the only one that could. As i was doing the task, I realized that I was having fun doing write ups and marketing blurbs. And I actually have a way with compelling written words. So I ditched my fancy title and started doing content and leads for an online travel agency.
As such, people are no longer confined to the idea of working upwards and becoming more attuned to their abilities instead. If you are a bit conventional, you might be afraid of not being a marketable commodity if you apply for another occupation. For example, your most recent work experience is being an administrative assistant yet you wanted to try out in a particular company as a graphic designer because you can actually draw and visualize a concept. Many employers are now open to train individuals who have no related work experience because probably they are beginning to understand that you cannot confine one’s abilities in just one field.
Another offshoot of a nonlinear progression could be changing to a seemingly different occupation but proves to be more of an organic transition in reality. My friend who has been a web programmer for 8 years has reached his last burnout straw. So he left his regular position and took a break during which time he learned about stock trading. He realized that he wanted to do it professionally. He discovered this company that has employees who do IT programming and stock trading under one job description. It turns out trading is a natural progression of programming.
You can land your dream job with a nonlinear path. A dream job highlights the areas you are good at, makes doing it loads of fun that it doesn’t feel like work, and getting paid for it seems a bonus. As a content and lead contributor, I am able to apply my natural skills while honing them some more in the process. It has also opened other avenues for me to write about. I always look forward to the next day, something that was missing from my previous occupation.
Don’t put too much premium on your occupation title. It is not the only basis of career success. I felt more successful doing what i like the most than having held a senior manager title for years. But thanks to the exposure at the time, I got to know what other departments were doing which led me to where I am now which is title-wise lower but higher in passion and fulfillment. Remember that your path is not dictated by an an outdated linear model. Instead, it will be carved based on your focus on yourself, trusting the process, development of other skills, building a strong network and listening to your gut. Not long after, your dream job could be yours for the taking.