Why You Should Embrace The Non-Linear Career Path

If life were a movie, you’d graduate from high school, pick your area of study, get your degree and then immediately find your dream job the day after you graduate from college. But these days, the people that happens to are few and far between. I’m someone who definitely has embraced a non-linear career path, though not intentionally.

non-linear career

Many of us were led to believe that to be successful our careers should follow a “logical” and “predictable” path. Our well-meaning parents and teachers encouraged us to pick a lane, earn a practical degree and get a job. From there, we should work hard and over the years, advance up the ranks at that company.

But the average person changes jobs an average of 12 times during their career. Whether fueled by curiosity or a desire to increase one’s adaptability, that’s a lot of change. Yet even with all that movement, we still fret over the perception of being a “job hopper,” particularly if our changes involve new industries and roles.

When you think about the ways the world and technology keep changing, this is going to create skill sets we didn’t necessarily look for in the past. It’s forcing us to look at other industries. There are going to be skills 5-10 years out that don’t even exist yet. Think of it this way: 10 years ago, Instagram didn’t exist. And now here we are with “content creator” and “social media manager” as a common career path these days.

So if you’re someone like me who has found themselves on a non-linear career path, make it work for you!

Here are 3 ways you can embrace your non-linear career path and live a life you love:

Ditch the guilt

Guess what? Life is full of twists and turns. Very rarely does everything go exactly according to plan. Even if you find yourself with a degree in hand that you’re not using, there’s zero shame in that. Maybe, like me, you’ve had a career with lots of forks in the road. My professional experience includes finance, HR, marketing, operations and project management. I’m also a creative who enjoys writing, web design, playing multiple instruments, photography and floral design. Unlike some members of my family, I haven’t had a “logical” sequence of jobs, even though I had a very traditional degree and background.

For me, the idea of working at the same desk for decades seemed not only improbable but frankly, kind of boring. But that didn’t prevent me from feeling some guilt about not following a “practical” and “safe” path. For years, I was afraid to embrace my creative gifts as a viable and legitimate career.

What I’ve come to learn is while there’s nothing wrong with a traditional career approach, it’s by no means the only way. Shift your mindset to move past any preconceived notion of what you “should” be doing and congratulate yourself on having the courage to create a new path — one that is uniquely yours.

Don’t get hung up on job titles

If you’re set on a specific job title, you may be overlooking major opportunities that can help propel your career forward. Be open to new opportunities and step outside of your comfort zone. Often, those in senior positions work cross-functionally with other teams. So if that’s an aspiration, take an interest in the work and roles of your peers in other departments. Doing so can help you develop a better perspective on how a business operates, and let you visualize where your expertise can be useful.

Write your own “career story”

I have somehow created a magical unicorn job that combines not only my education and areas of professional expertise, but also my creative passions. Even if you’ve had seemingly unrelated jobs in different industries, you can always find a common thread that weaves together your personal and professional experiences.

Also, consider your transferable skills and talents. Transferable skills are often what provides new opportunities to switch roles within a company. In my HR days, I’ve seen many candidates remove experiences from their resume that they didn’t think were relevant for the role. But what often gets removed are indicators of transferable and well-developed skills. The coffee shop you worked at 10 years ago can indicate skills like teamwork, customer service or your ability to delegate. These skills can be grown and developed in each successive role.

For me, a dream job is one that builds on your strengths, but also aligns with areas you want to learn and grow, and rarely does that fall on a straight linear trajectory!

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Author: Samantha Welker

Samantha Welker is the business manager at Glitter Guide. She has an Master's in Corporate Finance & Sustainability from Harvard Business School but prefers working in the creative industry. She also hosts a weekly business podcast for creative women called Pretty Okay Podcast. She loves spending time with her husband and her son, Rocky, in sunny San Diego. Follow along on Instagram