The straight-line career myth

By Dr. Louise Greenstock | May 01, 12 08:39 AM

Whether you are full or part time, your work is an important expression of who you are

“We insist on the straight and narrow when the Artists’ Way is a spiral path” Julia Cameron, The Artists Way, Hay House.

Many of us spend five days a week at work. At eight hours a day, five days a week (for approximately 49 weeks a year), that’s 1960 hours a year. Those of us working full-time will spend nearly 2000 hours a year at work. I don’t know about you, but that figure makes me want to look closely at what I’m doing to earn a living and consider all possibilities. 

Our work, what we do to earn an income, can become a central part of our identity. Many choose to train at a young age to earn a ‘license to practice’ as a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, a counsellor, a police officer, for example.  Some people change direction in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, even their 60s and find job satisfaction in doing something completely unrelated to their original employment.

Whether you are full or part time, your work is an important expression of who you are. If you are a full-time carer to your children or other relative, this an occupation and an important part of your life’s work.  If work is so important and such a big part of who we are then, why is it that as young people, we are so unprepared for the choices we will be required to make?

My career path has been a winding, meandering road so far. I changed degrees and ended up studying Psychology. At the end of my degree program I discovered I didn’t have a clue what to do next. I worked in a College, then in a school and I eventually came to do a PhD. Not because it was my burning desire, but because it seemed like a sensible option. After that I found myself realising that I still didn’t have a license to practice anything and I didn’t neatly fall into any one of the major career ‘boxes’ I saw as options. You could say I felt deflated and perhaps a little purposeless. At that point I decided to pay attention to the voice inside that had been faintly whispering (and was now starting to shout) ‘Life coaching’ in my ear. I trained as a life coach and here I am.

There is, of course, more to it than that. I ignored that desire to become a coach for six years.  My ego became highly proficient in creating excuses: I’m too young, it’s not a real job, people will laugh, I don’t have enough money to train, I know nothing about business. Well, to be fair, I did know nothing about business – but I do now!  The point is that my calling was there and I chose to suppress it – until the tap, tap, tapping on the shoulder got louder and louder and LOUDER.

It is now, at the age of 30 that I realise that I am no one ‘thing’. I am many things. My career identity is about my journey, my learnings, my successes, my harsh lessons. I’m a coach, a writer, a teacher, a facilitator, and a researcher. I’m confident I’ll become more things too.

If there is one thing young people don’t need, it is to be led to believe that each and every person will find one, true straight career path, one distinct and specific career box, to fall neatly into.  Some will, some won’t. This can be disappointing and confusing for us all. 

Instead, I argue that in 2012 we have a career playing field where we can express all of our skills, talents and passions through waxing and waning with the flow of our professional journeys. Taking one path, finding a dead-end, adapting to an alternative path, creating a career with more than one element, expressing the many sides of who we are.

I believe in setting young people up to embrace the journey, the lessons and to ride the waves of discovering what they do, and don’t, want to do and be. For me it’s becoming more about a personal mission in life and less about one job. If what I’m doing is in alignment with my values and takes me closer to where I want to go, and who I want to be, I’m joyful.  I’ll still experience roles that don’t quite fit and that’s OK. I haven’t failed at finding an occupation, I have succeeded in finding my purpose. It’s about passion, purpose and persistence. Go with the flow, listen to the tap, tap, tapping, and always start with the question, ‘who do I want to be?’


Louise is a Premium member of Business Chicks; request her online business card and connect with her here.

Dr. Louise Greenstock works with inspired individuals who want to discover what they really want in life and what is standing in their way.  Louise is a qualified life coach and practitioner of NLP, Time Line Therapy, and Hypnotherapy with a passion for women’s right to choose the lifestyle that ticks all their boxes and to feel fabulous in doing so.

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