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How should you choose your career path?

Hannah Mason • Jul 22, 2021
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How should you choose your career path?

Hannah Mason • Jul 22, 2021

How do people decide what career path to take?

This is something I’ve often wondered. There are almost unlimited options and I never cease to come across roles that I’d never encountered before, even after years of recruitment and CV writing experience. As children most of us imagine we’ll become an astronaut, a ballerina, teacher, fireman or something similar. So, how does someone end up becoming an HSE Quality Manager, an Enterprise Partnership Director or even a CV Writer?

I recently took to LinkedIn to find out the answer to this question and received an incredible 2435 responses to a poll that asked, ‘How did you decide what career path was right for you?’.

  • 13% used a career coach or career advisor
  • 20% listened to their family and friends
  • 58% simply tried different things

I have included some of the comments from respondents at the end of this article, they are quite inspiring and well worth reading!

It appears that for the majority of people it’s a process of trial and error. I take comfort in this. We often get stuck wondering what we should be doing with our life and there is so much emphasis on what we do. When we meet new people one of the first questions we ask is 'what do you do for a living?' and then we define them by this. It shapes our perception of the person and we put them in a box. But life, and our careers, are a journey. What we are doing today is not the final destination, it’s not the culmination of all that we are. It is just the thing that we happen to be doing right now.

In fact, most of us have multiple careers in our lifetime. There might be themes but the path is rarely straight. The point is to keep learning, keep growing and to keep trying different things. I do think that for most of us ‘trying different things’ is the best approach to take. Here’s why:

It’s easier to steer a moving ship

In other words, it’s easier to change direction and plot your path forward once you start moving. Many of us simply get stuck trying to think our way into the perfect career, the fear of making a mistake paralyses us into inaction. Early in our careers, we can have thoughts such as ‘I must choose the perfect degree/university/internship because this is going to determine the rest of my life’ or ‘what if I don’t like doing xyz, I’ll be stuck doing something I hate forever’.

Of course, there are some of us who know from a young age exactly what we want to do and then find fulfilment doing that thing for the rest of their lives. But it’s rare and unless you fall into that category, it can be unhelpful to approach your career with that same mindset.

So, don’t get stuck at the starting blocks, waiting to have all the answers. Start taking steps forward, try things and pivot and change direction as needed.

I'm going to recommend one resource to you on this subject, it's a book called Designing Your Life, in this book the authors (both of whom come from a design backgrounds) give us permission to try different things, and describe how this is simply part of the process of designing a well-lived and fulfilling life and career.

If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend you check it out, you can find it here on Amazon.

Designing Your Life - Our Top Book Recommendation

Check it out on Amazon

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The average person today will have 5 careers in their lifetime

My dad finished his studies (without many qualifications) and fell into the roofing industry through a friend. He started working for a roofing contractor as a Tiler, working his way up to Contract Manager and eventually to become a Director. Last year, he retired from that same company after working for them for over 30 years. He didn’t love roofing, but it’s what he had experience in and so it’s what he continued to do for his whole working life. He was loyal to his company and a good worker and they were loyal to him too.

However, this type of story is becoming less and less common. The world of work is changing at a more rapid pace than at any time in history, with roles becoming obsolete and new roles emerging all the time. What’s more, the concept of loyalty to one company (and company loyalty to an individual) is becoming a notion of the past.

Studies show that most of us will have around 5 distinct careers in our lifetime, as we navigate changing career landscapes and personal interests and as we continue to study and upskill throughout our lives. Therefore, the old notion of identifying your one area of interest and pursuing only this, now feels outdated. As individuals, we are always changing and the world around us is changing too, try different things and take advantage of the many possibilities that are out there.

It pays to be a multipotentialite

Around 2010, Emilie Wapnick coined the term "multipotentialite”, this is how she describes it;

A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life.

Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both).

Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. We are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways. This makes us incredible innovators and problem solvers.

When it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on. As a result, we pick up new skills fast and tend to be a wealth of information.

Emilie Wapnick, Terminology, Puttylike

When I first came across this term, it really stuck with me. I was one of those students in school who equally enjoyed Maths, English, the Arts and Sciences. It was really hard for me to decide which subjects to study as I progressed through my education and had to reduce my subjects to increasingly smaller numbers. At first, I thought this was a problem. I’d think ‘I wish I had one clear interest or one thing that I excelled at above everything else – then I’d know what to do’.

But I’ve discovered that something magical can happen when a person is able to converge different skills and interests. It is often in the intersection of apparently distinct areas, that new discoveries happen. In the world of work this is also true. I have often spoken to professionals who have been able to carve out unique career paths by combining different passions and skills. The real estate finance expert who became COO of a carpet fitting company, discovered an interest in IT later in life and now helps design technology platforms for real estate investment companies. The Project Engineer who gained expertise in banking and found a passion to solve climate change issues, who now works for a global fund to get funding approval for infrastructure projects that positively impact the climate.

The world needs people who are multipotentialites, who pursue different passions and interests and who are uniquely able to combine all of their skills and experience to solve problems and find new solutions.

I was really inspired by the stories people shared on my LinkedIn poll, and I want to share some of my favourites with you! If you’re feeling stuck in your career, or if you’re just getting started, then I hope you can take some inspiration from these many people and the unlikely ways they fell into doing what they love.