Growing up, we’re told that we should carefully plan out our career. In fact, for those wanting to break into a professional career, you need to decide fairly early on so you can graduate from college with the right major, internships, and experience. But that adds a lot of stress to an already stressful time, and some people may not realize that they want to enter a certain field until they are well out of college.
Why, then, do we place such an emphasis on planning out our entire career from such a young age? It’s okay (and, in fact, encouraged) to have goals for your career, but you don’t necessarily need to have everything planned out with timelines and deadlines for what you want to accomplish. Although we often like to think of careers in terms of a directed, well-thought out occurance, we should start viewing them as an improvisation.
Our careers don’t follow a linear path. As a result, we can never truly map out our career, at least not definitively. You might meet someone one day by chance who gives you his or her business card and later turns into a connection or job interview. There are obstacles and curves along the way, and we have to deal with things we didn’t see coming. We learn new things, discover new passions, and go through new experiences.
When we think about our careers in this sense, we alleviate much stress and anxiety about our current career position. Suddenly, it isn’t too late to switch careers because you didn’t have the right internships in college. Internships or jobs no longer feel impossible to get. We start seeing more and more opportunities and possibilities in all that we do and want to do.
When we stop mapping out every detail of our career, we allow ourselves to bring an open mind to the table. We bring flexibility to our lives and our careers. We bring the opportunity to take risks and to learn new lessons.
This isn’t to say, though, that we should leave everything up to chance encounters and happenstance. In fact, when most chance encounters lead to positive career development, there is typically something else playing a role: you!
Even if you happen to meet the right person, you may have done something to get yourself in that position. Perhaps you attended a networking event or you went to a talk that interested you. Even more, for any chance encounter to turn into an opportunity, you had to initiate or participate in a conversation with the other person.
Even with improvisation comes proactive engagement. You should stay involved and curious. Instead of waiting for chance encounters, go out and find them. Talk with people you don’t necessarily know and try to learn as much as possible from as many people as possible. Learn to improvise with the opportunities that come your way.
If you aren’t where you want to be right now, that’s okay. Capitalize on opportunities, stay flexible, and take risks. You never know where you’ll end up.