Would Your Career Benefit from a Curve in the Road?

Aug 10 / Julie Jones
Are you at a crossroads in your career? Are you overtaxed, burned out, or in need of a change? If so, you’re not alone. Julia Pollak, the chief economist for ZipRecruiter, said 2022 is the real year of the great resignation topping 2021 by more than 2.5 million quits. These are record-breaking quit numbers for the U.S.  People are leaving and going to new jobs for a variety of reasons, but personal growth, job, and career satisfaction are at the top of most lists.  

Recently, I listened to a TEDX talk titled, The Best Career Path Isn’t Always a Straight Line by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis. If you answered yes to any of the questions above, the content will resonate with you as it did with me.  

For too long, titles have defined careers. Listen closely to how people define themselves - a title, a business, or a role. No one introduces themselves as, “Hi, I’m Julie, I believe in people and their ability to grow, adapt, and learn. I’m an experienced mentor and educator…”. Isn’t it different when we talk about talents instead of titles? It sheds more light on you as a person and what is important to you.    

People chase titles and the next “step” on the ladder to validate career success. Unfortunately, it’s common for other people and hiring teams to also judge or evaluate your talent or career based solely on your step progression. Tupper and Ellis shared their perspective about the legacy of the ladder and the common interview question, “Where do you see yourself in the next five years”? At some point, haven’t you had to answer this question? You go to what you know -- a title and a progression that is “higher” than where you are currently. The step approach narrowly defines career progress as promotion to the next title.  

Tupper and Davis share another path that likely won’t be a straight line or the next rung on the ladder. Instead, they note that career success isn’t a one size fits all model; maybe your best opportunity isn’t the next “logical” step. They also note that careers and aspirations are both squiggly. I often use the term organic to describe my own journey combining both career and aspirations. I’ve tried on lots of hats, developed a variety of skills, and, in the process, learned things about myself that I have applied along the way. I guess squiggly has worked for me.  

The squiggly concept might be exactly what you need when you lose your title for any reason — a layoff, voluntarily quit, or retirement as examples. Squiggly may help you define yourself without a title — determining priorities, purpose, and the value you want to offer, whether paid or unpaid. One of my mentors described this process as remaining relevant despite the change.  

Consider how you can let your light shine.
What are your strengths, passions, experiences, and skills? Most of these are transferable to a variety of jobs. Move beyond defining your skills as your primary “role” — how do these skills become complementary for another role or for a related industry? The largest change involves a career pivot — shifting in significant ways toward a new path.

Our March post, Rediscover Joy, includes various exercises to help you identify your talents, skills, strengths, and priorities. Reflecting on what makes you, you, and how you shine, will provide insight for your career or life plan -- whether ladder or squiggly.  

How do you brighten your light?

Career satisfaction and personal growth are fueled by interests, skills, purpose, and learning. Give yourself the license to curate and craft your own learning experiences based on what interests you. Explore and field test options to see how they fit. Can you make any connections between your skills and other jobs or career paths?

Think about the famous culinarian, Julia Child’s career path. She was a late bloomer -- She was almost fifty when she coauthored Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.  

How did Julia’s career begin? She graduated from Smith College with a degree in history. Still trying to find her path, she started a secretarial course at the Packard Commercial School but left when she got her first secretarial job in a home furnishings company. She was fired for insubordination after a mix-up about a document.  

World War II caused her next pivot; she wanted to volunteer or join the military to support the war effort. After she was rejected from military service because she was too tall, she worked as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). She took a variety of positions in the OSS and volunteered to work overseas. She met her husband while working for the OSS in India.  

Her culinary journey begins with her enrollment in Le Cordon Bleu cooking school after her husband was posted to an OSS job in Paris. Her book, The Art of French Cooking opened many doors for Julia and when she and her husband moved back to the United States, media companies and the US public were waiting. She became the first female celebrity chef — a television icon winning a daytime Emmy award, a sought-after cookbook author, and a promoter of culinary education. Her position in culinary history was cemented following a squiggly career path. Her light shined brightly!  

Think about her experiences and how they set her up for success in her culinary career. Living overseas expanded her skills and opportunities. How about her job experiences? Secretarial skills help organize, prioritize, and serve others. Her OSS experience allowed her to research issues and learn more about other countries. She was able to experience the culture of other countries and become fascinated with their food. Would her path have been the same if she began her career at Le Cordon Bleu right out of high school? Probably not.

Her skills were developed through a variety of jobs and life experiences allowing her to shine brightly. She also pivoted a few times in her career based on her needs, values, and interests. When she moved back to the United States, she was able to take advantage of related industries -- launching her television career through cooking. Don’t discount how your life experiences will also shape your career options.  

Now imagine Julia Child’s introduction. “Hi, I’m Julia. I am a student of French culture and cooking. My passion is making French cuisine accessible to others so they can also fall in love with it! Julia lived her passion, crafted her purpose, and made a difference for others.  

Aren’t passion, purpose, and impact what you want for your career or life plan? How could squiggly help align your passion, purpose, and impact? 

For those who want more detailed information, Helen Tupper and Sarah Davis have also written these books, The Squiggly Career. Ditch the Ladder, Discover Opportunity, Design Your Career and You Coach You both published by Penguin in 2022. They also produce a weekly podcast titled The Squiggly Careers and their website, amazingif.com, provides additional resources as well.