Have You Mapped Your Career Journey? - Issue #315
Every step you take has a season and a reason
Note: I’m creating a series of courses and building a community to help guide people on a journey from employee to solopreneur. The launch date will be in 2022. If you’re interested in learning more, sign up to be notified here. Thanks!
I was catching up with an old friend recently. We’ve supported each other through the many twists and turns of our careers. During the call, she said to me, “It’s time. I’m ready to take a break and move on to my next adventure!”
After decades of hard work and success, she was finally prepared for a significant change. She’d been talking about it for years, but this time she actually quit her job and was ready for something new and very different.
I remember reaching that point too. For some people, it’s a feeling that gradually builds. A growing sense of frustration, disappointment, and boredom. An itch to make a change.
For other people, it can happen suddenly. An adverse event at work can trigger a rapid decision to quit and walk away. The proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back.
No matter how it happens, the feeling is quite normal. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. It also doesn’t mean that something is necessarily wrong with your job or employer.
We are ever-evolving, and phases of life are natural. It’s ok to outgrow a job, employer, or even your profession. In fact, it’s more than “ok.” Sometimes it’s necessary for continued health and fulfillment.
We’re living longer, and the active years of our professional lives are lasting longer too. If you’re going to be in your career — however you define it — for four or more decades, why should you expect to be doing the same thing that entire time?
You shouldn’t, and you don’t have to.
People sometimes think that I’m opposed to regular 9-5 jobs and that you should avoid corporate employers. But, I think they play a valuable role in your career growth, professional development, and financial security.
However, I am opposed to staying in a 9-5 job, with a specific employer, or even in a profession, if it no longer meets your needs. For many of us, every experience has an “ideal season” in our lives, and we need to recognize when the time has come to move to bigger and better things.
I value my corporate experience a great deal. I don’t regret it at all. It prepared me for what I wanted to do next.
Did I love every minute of it? Of course not. I had wonderful experiences, but I also experienced some terrible things that I don’t care to repeat and I now help others avoid.
But, how do you know when it’s time to move on? Where do you want to go next? What do you want to do?
What is your ideal overall career journey? Have you created your map to intentionally plan your path to get from where you are today to where you want to end up eventually?
Start your journey with education
Is college necessary for everyone? Of course not. Many successful people never graduated from college.
However, even if you decide that an advanced degree isn’t right for you, continuing your education in some way is always a wise career investment. With all of its online resources, the modern world makes it easier than ever to educate yourself. Books, courses, and mentors are readily available.
Indeed, the value of a traditional college education is increasingly being questioned. Many top employers no longer require a degree.
Now, for some professions, you can’t get away from a formal degree and other types of certifications and exams to do what you do. For example, my brother is a surgeon who needed a formal degree, intense training, specialization, residency program, etc. I don’t think you’d want a self-taught surgeon operating on you. 😳
If it’s a viable option for you, I still recommend that you pursue an education that takes you out of your hometown. For example, all of my children have college degrees or are currently pursuing them.
Why? Because I think a college experience changes you in several valuable ways. Some of the benefits are clear (e.g., specific training, earning potential), while others are intangible but incredibly valuable. For example:
A network that can help you later in life (e.g., jobs, business deals, investment).
Learning how to learn.
Getting outside of your geographic and cultural “bubble.”
Broadening your horizons.
Expanding your worldview.
Developing a greater diversity of friendships and relationships.
An easier and safer step into independence.
The experience of going away to university changes you for the better. Are there exceptions to the rule? Absolutely. I’m talking about data in aggregate across millions of people. It doesn’t look at individuals.
There are college-educated individuals who are selfish, racist, sexist failures. We all know a few, don’t we?
And, there are individuals who never attended college who are amazing, caring, open-minded, and greatly successful. I know many people like that too.
However, even with the benefits I listed, a university education will never give you everything you need to succeed in the world. That’s why I think everyone should have a good ol’ traditional job to learn how things actually work.
Employment shows you the ropes
As I’ve said before, work is your post-graduate education. I value my college experience, but it didn’t even come close to teaching me everything I would need to succeed in the working world.
People will sometimes ask me if they should jump straight from graduation to starting their own business. It’s quite challenging to take that path, but some people have succeeded quite well without playing the traditional 9-5 game.
My friend, Anna, is one example. She’s built multiple businesses and consulted for almost all of her entire professional life. I think she had one “regular job” for about a year when she was 15 years old.
However, I know I’m glad that I worked for someone else for many years during my career journey. I learned so much, made mistakes on someone else’s time and dime, and developed lifelong friendships with numerous coworkers.
Some benefits of corporate experience:
Learning how to work in the real world.
Working on massive products and/or services at scale.
Operating with larger budgets than you’d ever experience on your own.
Learning about other professions and how to collaborate with them.
Expensive global travel covered by your employer.
Meeting a more diverse group of people than you might ever meet in your life outside of work.
Ongoing professional development (e.g., public speaking).
Management and leadership training and experience.
Working with your potential future business partners.
My father’s generation had one career and usually one employer for their working life. You chose a profession, found a steady job, and stayed with the company until you retired. That’s exactly what he did.
My generation — Gen X — thought we would have one career. That’s what we were told when we entered college. Choosing your major would define your profession, and that would be your career path for life. We found out the hard way that wouldn’t be true.
Jobs have smaller, tighter arcs and life cycles. We’ve all come to see that. Get hired, move up, or move out for a better opportunity to repeat the process. I now recognize that professions have a life cycle as well, although it’s a bigger arc and harder to see at first.
At some point, you need to move up out of a comfortable individual contributor role into a more senior role, and often management and leadership. Otherwise, you are seen as “too old” and relegated to less desirable projects and roles.
Career growth or bust
People will ask me how they can tell when it’s time to move on. My answer? It depends on your career growth with your employer, profession, and relevant industry.
Managers will often make excuses and tell you that it’s too early to promote you. Or, they’ll tell you that you need to wait your turn or wait years between promotions.
Even if that’s the company’s policy, they will make exceptions for certain employees and in certain circumstances. I’ve seen it all.
In my case, with one employer, I was promoted every year that I was there. I’ve seen other people promoted to Vice President with no team. I’ve watched my clients receive promotions outside of the regular cycle.
I’m not saying that you should expect or demand a promotion every single year. But, if you are clearly performing at the level above you, it had better happen soon.
Don’t wait too long. If your employer won’t promote you, someone else will when they hire you.
It makes sense to stay in a job as long as you are still growing and things move up and to the right. Also, you should still be feeling satisfied and fulfilled in your work.
Some people can be happy if things level off and stay the same. They define themselves outside of work and their career. It’s a paycheck. That’s all, and that’s ok.
But, if that’s not you and you expect more, you may eventually hit a plateau in your career growth with an employer. You will have either “made it” as a senior executive or missed your window of opportunity (if that’s what you wanted). This “expiration date” varies by industry, but I think we all know it exists.
A few months ago, someone was talking about being turned away by a mentor who told her that she was too old and it was too late for her to pursue the career she had chosen. Yes, it is illegal to discriminate based on age, but good luck proving that.
I think most of us reach a tipping point where we know it’s time to move to a bigger and better opportunity.
A tipping point in your journey
Visualize a scale balancing the good things about your employment weighed against the negative things about working for someone else. Yes, there are always good and bad things in the mix when you’re an employee.
As long as the scale keeps balancing heavily towards the positive, keep enjoying your profession and working for an employer! But, if that scale starts to tip to the negative side, it’s time to take a hard look at what’s happening.
Is it only slightly less positive? Can it be rebalanced in your favor?
Is it a 50-50 balance that ends up feeling miserable the longer it goes on? Or, is it tipping more and more to the negative side as your frustration, disappointment, and boredom grow?
There are several factors to consider:
Compensation - Are you making as much as you should be? (e.g., employees who stay in companies longer than two years get paid 50% less over their lifetimes).
Promotions - Are you receiving the promotions you deserve?
Job satisfaction - Do you enjoy your work and feel like your job fully leverages your talents?
Stress - How much stress and anxiety does your work create for you?
Politics - Does the workplace have negative politics that create even more stress?
Coworker relationships - Do you have healthy, productive relationships with your coworkers?
Your boss - Do you have a good relationship with your manager (e.g., 50% of us have quit a job to escape a bad boss).
Company culture - Does the company culture align with who you are?
Values and ethics - Do you agree with the company values? Is the company ethical in its treatment of employees and customers?
Ageism, sexism, racism, etc. - Is your workplace free of “isms”?
Professional growth - Do you have opportunities to learn, grow, and advance your career inside the company?
Skills and knowledge - Are you still acquiring new skills and knowledge?
Industry relevance - Does your work feel relevant in the broader industry? Are the products and services still relevant? Is the company respected?
Future of the company - What does the future hold? Will the company survive and thrive, or is it struggling?
Professional brand - Is working at the company good for your professional brand?
Positioning for next move - How well does your job position you for where you want to go next?
If you evaluate all of these positive and negative factors and discover that you’re no longer satisfied with the balance, it might be time to move on to a better job. Or, it might be time to shake things up entirely if you’ve reached the “end of the season” for your profession.
It wasn’t that long ago that I felt like I was reckless giving up my 23-year tech career to build something new and different for my next career move. Looking back, I realize that it was time. It was time for something that was a better fit for my stage of life, dreams, long-term goals, and desired lifestyle.
I have a few clients going through a similar process. At first, they say, “I can’t imagine leaving my current profession. It’s what I’ve always done!”
But, once they realize that they can now choose to do something entirely new with their career, they light up like they’ve been given a gift. They stop defining themselves by their old profession, job, and employer.
They redefine themselves by uncovering their core truths. They chart a new course for their career journey that gives them more of what they want in their lives.
You’ve earned your independence
I’m obviously biased, but I think entrepreneurship and solopreneurship are part of the natural evolution of your career. Many of us reach a point where being an employee has diminishing returns as we ease closer to retirement.
Research has found that having a sense of purpose is essential. Completely retiring and leaving the working world isn’t healthy.
But you probably don’t want to keep cranking away at a 9-5 job after you’ve already worked so hard for decades climbing the ladder. You deserve more freedom. You’ve earned the right to have more independence, and that’s where solopreneurship comes in.
When I was preparing to leave my last corporate job over 11 years ago, I met with a colleague for coffee. He asked what I was doing next, and I said I was exploring a few options such as a head of Product at a smaller company or a CPO at a startup.
He looked at me funny and said, “Why? At this point in your career and with your connections, you should do your own startup. You could easily raise funding.”
Well, I did start consulting again and kept my eyes open for a few roles with employers. But, I soon decided that I would never return to being an employee.
So, here I am today, running this business as a leadership & career coach and business advisor for several years now and loving it. I just can’t give up the independence and freedom it provides me.
Of course, not everyone wants this. But, for those of us who value our time and freedom more than money, we can’t imagine living our lives any other way.
As I said earlier, I cherish my experiences in the corporate world. It taught me a lot. I see it as an investment, much like my time acquiring my college degree and Ph.D.
However, at some point, it became a series of diminishing returns. I knew that my time in the corporate world was coming to an end.
Rather than riding my job all the way to the bitter end, I chose to exit at a high point. My ideal career journey has now enabled me to leverage everything I’ve learned and experienced to build my own business and define how I chose to work.
I know that entrepreneurship may not be suitable for everyone. But, as my recent surveys have revealed:
60-83% of you are certain that you want to start your own business at some point in your career.
17-40% of you aren’t sure yet, but you’re considering it.
So far, only a tiny number of people have said “No way” when asked if entrepreneurship was in their future.
I think it’s time to redefine what entrepreneurship means so that it’s more approachable for more people. It doesn’t have to be some overwhelmingly scary career move. I view it as a natural step on our overall professional path and life journey, and I know that it can be very fulfilling and rewarding.
I’m here to help! I’m currently creating a series of courses and a peer community to help guide people on a journey from employee to solopreneur. The launch date will be in 2022. If you’re interested in learning more, sign up to be notified here. Thanks!
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Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who hosts a private mastermind community for solopreneurs and entrepreneurs who want more accountability and support. If you’re not interested in starting your own business someday (or accelerating an existing one), that community probably isn’t for you.
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.