Your career is an Easter egg hunt, not a ladder….and isn’t that WAY more fun?

By Melissa Centers

Basket of colorful easter eggs sitting on lawn

Recently, I was chatting with someone who just graduated from high school. It was clear that she is frozen with the choices that face her. Should she go to college? A trade school? Get a job? And what if she doesn’t like what she chooses, isn’t she stuck with it forever? I suggested that she worry less, as few of us know exactly what we want to do, even ten to twenty years into a successful career. The most important thing is to take a step into whatever area you think might be interesting and that gives you the best opportunity to grow. Once you take that step, look around, ask questions, learn what you can from people who are great at what they do, and leverage your new skills to push yourself in an entirely new direction.

According to a 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey, it is estimated that most people will have 12 jobs during their lives. In the last year, 32% of those 25 to 44 have considered a career change. Since starting their first job after college, 29% of people have completely changed fields. Gone are the days where a marker of career success was longevity with a single company, and a climb up some invisible ladder.

What does this mean for new professionals and those considering what to do next? The good news is, the ladder is gone. Here’s a secret, it never worked well anyway. And, a lot of people felt like they could not get off once they were on it because they already invested so much time waiting for the people above them to move up or off.

I encourage you to view your career as an Easter egg hunt. Look behind the bushes, run to the best hiding places (even when they aren’t obvious), and take time to evaluate the entire field for the special hidden eggs. The curiosity, if you can keep it stoked for all of your working years, will enable you to fill your basket and keep it full.

“Well rounded leaders and entrepreneurs are often the most successful because they understand the interdependencies between disciplines and how an action in one area can dramatically impact a result in another.”

You Are Able:  Always Be Learning and Expanding

Well rounded leaders and entrepreneurs are often the most successful because they understand the interdependencies between disciplines and how an action in one area can dramatically impact a result in another. These lifelong learners are also able to leverage their transferable skills to differentiate themselves in a new area. For example, I started my career in public relations and communications, and when I transitioned to IT, my “super power” was that I could distill really complex things into something non-technology people could understand and make decisions about. This was all thanks to my early training in communications, which is an unusual starting point for women in technology. In addition, this early communications experience served me even more when I moved into legal, where my success depended on my ability to explain complex and often theoretical issues to a wide variety of decision-makers. Added bonus, I had a niche (translation, competitive advantage internally) right away because I understood technology in a manner that most lawyers did not. In my opinion, there is never a throwaway experience. What matters is what you learn from each experience, how you apply your new knowledge in creative ways, and how you carry those lessons in your basket to the next egg hunt.

How to develop more well-rounded experience, and sharpen your transferable skillsets

Lateral moves

Lateral moves can also help future leaders develop the skillsets they need to succeed and elevate themselves throughout their career. A lateral move can be a job of the same level at the same company that is in a different function or capacity, or it can be a move to another company. Don’t assume that when you move to another company that you are bound by the pay and level of your current role. The best way to increase your income is to change companies, and a lateral move with upward momentum is a great way to accomplish that in a shorter time.

Ask questions

The best education for any career is to ask questions. Most professionals enjoy sharing their expertise, and what better way to show that you are confident in what you “don’t know” than asking questions of those who do. Try to work the most impactful learnings into your current role, as practice will cement those skills into your repertoire. In fact, most of the best leaders are a composite of traits and skills they’ve borrowed along the way.

Volunteer in other areas

Many companies offer opportunities to work on “special projects” or volunteer for guest auditor or improvement initiatives. If your company does not have formal programs like these, talk to your manager, human resources, and a few key leaders in the areas you would like to learn. Make a business case for why this development is a good investment of time, how you will use your new knowledge to develop others on the team, and how it will create an advantage for both the company and you. And if you are running the company, consider how you can create these opportunities for others.

“Often, the decisions most critical to your success will be made while you are not in the room, so make sure you have created a network of advocates that will recommend you for opportunities when they are discussed.”

Make your desires known

The most important behavior for career success is letting people in various decision-making capacities know what you are looking for. Often, the decisions most critical to your success will be made while you are not in the room, so make sure you have created a network of advocates that will recommend you for opportunities when they are discussed.

Leverage programs offered by your local library, community college, or nonprofit

Many library systems have evolved from a provider of books to service organizations designed to enhance the community and develop career skillsets for patrons. In addition, many nonprofits (like Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and Let Her Speak) and local colleges (like Pellissippi State) offer free and low-cost programs designed to help individuals achieve their career aspirations, build relationships with other professionals, and learn new skills for career transitions.

And most importantly, enjoy the hunt and the creative uses for all the eggs you find.


Read More from Melissa on Her Blog: Prep Over Coffee

About the author »
Melissa Centers

Melissa Centers is a board member, consultant, and attorney who provides strategic advice in a variety of disciplines to boards, executives, and companies of all sizes. Before entering private practice, Melissa was the Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary at State Auto Insurance, a $2 billion publicly traded insurance company. She has also held executive roles in IT, communications, marketing, human resources, government affairs, audit, and of course, legal and compliance. When not helping clients, Melissa is a writing enthusiast and teacher. You can check out her business blog below.

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