- Wise Words -
Your career journey will be a long & winding road
by kirsten rasanen
The offsite. A moment of clarity
Twice a year, our team of 25 business development managers attends an offsite where we escape our office (usually just to a big conference room in a different office) to focus on team development and business analysis.
We try to find a balance between happy-clappy, Kum Ba Yah type activities and actual business planning to streamline and improve our performance.
At the last offsite, the organizers asked a panel of seasoned team members to speak with the group about Career Development. As a veteran, someone with 20+ years in the workforce under my belt, I was asked to participate. I tried not to think too much about the fact that ‘veteran’ is probably code for ‘the people in the room with a few grey hairs’ and happily agreed to take part. I figured I’d talk about my meandering career, maybe tell a few war stories and try to summon up some sage advice for my, frankly, already incredibly well-accomplished teammates.
Through the course of the discussion, I shared an insight that I wish someone had told me earlier in my career to save me a few sleepless nights or angst filled days... I hope that they save you this!
It’s OK not to know what you want to be when you grow up.
From an early age we’re asked the question - What do you want to be when you grow up? As a kid, you may say “An astronaut!” or “A doctor!” or other careers lauded by society as challenging, rewarding and respectable. But, when you’re eight, you don’t really have any idea what you want to dedicate your life to doing. For a short period of time when I was eight, my answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was an enthusiastic shout of, “A cocktail waitress!” Based on what I saw on TV, cocktail waitresses wore cute dresses and, generally, people seemed to like cocktail waitresses. Clearly, my parents weren’t monitoring my TV viewing all that much.
But, after the age of eight, we’re expected to consider our future prospects a bit more carefully. As young adults choosing a college major or a career path, we make choices for different reasons. Maybe it’s a career with a good financial future. Maybe, you’ll “always be able to find work”. Maybe everyone in your family is a lawyer. Maybe you have no. earthly. idea. It can be an agonizing decision and is often fraught with uncertainty.
Where you start isn’t where you’ll end
But, here’s the secret: Whatever career you choose to pursue at 18 or 22 or 25 probably isn’t what you’ll end up doing forever. In fact, it’s very likely not. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong started his career as a teacher and later moved to journalism. Pope Francis was a bouncer (really!). CBS CEO Les Moonves was an actor. You get the point. These people didn’t know where they’d end up in life and that’s true for most people.
My fellow Career Development panelists and I all more or less hold the same job title now (Global Lead of Business Development for something or other), but we have a super diverse set of backgrounds and job experiences. One of us started in investment banking. One of us was a submarine captain in the Navy. One of us was in PR for a video game company. One of us wrote scripts for and produced pharmaceutical company training videos (that was me - Zzzzzzzz…..). And there were all kinds of different jobs and careers in between!
Despite our different paths, we all agreed on two things: First, none of us had any idea in our early careers that we’d end up here - at Google. In Business Development (whatever that is). And, we agreed that a key factor to our current success was our plethora of experiences in other fields. Having seen other industries, experienced successes and failures, worked for large companies and small, built skills in a variety of ways was critical to helping us forge strong relationships with our customers and colleagues.
So, don’t be afraid to change it up.
If you find yourself in a job that’s not fulfilling or interesting, find something new. If an exciting opportunity presents itself, don’t dismiss it just because it doesn’t fit your current path. If you don’t know exactly what you want to be when you grow up, that’s OK. Your career will evolve as will you.
For more on this topic try "Careers Happen", "Don't Get Trapped By Comfort". Also try Kirsten's other column on being the "Genuine Article".