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Discover Your Career Path. Don’t Decide It.

I love kids. They can be a fireman, a nurse, a doctor, a postman, space explorer within minutes and with sky-high confidence. Where did we lose that confidence growing up?

With adulthood, comes EXPECTATIONS. Parents, Educators, Friends, Partners and many more – everyone has expectations. And with expectations, comes ANXIETY.

It starts with high school and continues into college. The pressure of choosing an academic stream which helps one pursue it with reasonable certainty is enormous. It is such a huge burden off one’s back once the stream or major is chosen. No need to explain oneself to others. One is sorted.

Careers today come with curveballs. You never know what comes next. Organizations are flattened. When I joined work, bosses had cabins. When I became a boss with a team, the organization decided to go all flat, which meant everyone stayed in their cubicles and you had to play the fastest fingers first to book the meeting rooms.

Just doing your job is no longer enough. Unleash your passions at work – that jazzy presentation may just get you the PMO role leading into business strategy; love for data crunching and patterns could get you into operational excellence assignments or roles; enjoyed working with HR on assessment centers – think of picking up a certification in that area. You got skilled as a doctor; your job may get eliminated by a robot. Picking up skills is not longer a nice to have option.

My senior clients are often a worried lot. By doing what they have always been doing very well, they reached the pinnacle of leadership in their position. However, the curveball often hits them the hardest and it is difficult to develop new skills.

What’s the answer? My top 5 points for embracing your career as a lifelong journey of exploration and discovery, thus building an enviable repertoire of transferable skills which you can leverage along this journey are listed below.

1. Look Inside: Do a soul search. Carve out free time for yourself. Explore different work activities, hobbies, community volunteering and so on. Reflect on what really interests you both in terms of work activities and environments which energize you. What do you value? Seek feedback from others, take assessments and improve your self-awareness.

2. Future Scan: Explore what are the industry headwinds, understand your company strategy and research what is valued. Listen to podcasts, read business magazines, follow thought leaders. Conduct “informational interviews” to hear what others are saying. Check out skills and new certifications required in jobs that interest you. We often forget the importance of scanning in our daily lives.

3. Find intersections: Intersections are everywhere. Hardly anyone even in traditional disciplines is doing a traditional job. A bioscientist is working with an AI expert. I am an HR executive, who has combined the love for writing and listening with HR skills. You could find your niche by exploring the intersections of your interests. Don’t give up.

4. Gain expertise: Skills like communication, interpersonal, negotiation, critical thinking, problem-solving are transferable across all industries. Identify your skills and start building more depth in these transferable skills, so that you stay relevant throughout your career. Ageism is a real thing. Be updated. Invest in your skills.

5. Raise your hands: Volunteer for assignments, community work or even create assignments that stretch you beyond your comfort zone. Learning agility is more important than your 2 year or 25 year old educational degree. The best candidate is often the one with higher learnability than qualifications.

Even if you want to take a moment and lament the loss of traditional career paths, remember that’s for the good. Traditional career paths bring with them the anxiety of vertical career progression. I for one, am glad that these career paths are just one of many options now.

Embrace ambiguity. With it, you get back self-control over your destiny. Life is no longer about what is available for you, but what you can do to create meaning for yourself.

Just keep learning.

Discover your path. Don’t decide it.

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