Maybe it’s being in my mid-50’s, maybe it’s the changing seasons or maybe it’s because it seems like I have had so many conversations with college students lately. Whatever the reason, I have been thinking a lot about how our wants, needs and priorities seem to constantly change. That is a good thing.
What you wanted at 25 is very, very unlikely to be what you want at 55. But to get what you want, at any age, requires that we know what we want. Although that may seem like a big fat duh, I don’t see much of that knowing in the 25-year-olds or 55-year-olds I talk to.
Last month, I was on a panel of four women leaders at my alma mater, Purdue. The students in the audience were so earnest, so engaged, so inquisitive, and so focused on Making. Exactly. The. Right. Moves. Maybe I was that way when I was in college, but as I recall, I was more engaged in finding the best party. It might just be that fogged up rear-view mirror, but I remember we pretty much had one option—go work for Corporate America and hope for the best. Someone older, at a higher level, who presumably had all of the answers, or at least more answers than you did, would tell you what to do and when the right time was to do it. I get why 22-year-olds feel so much pressure to get it right, but how many of us north of 22 got it right in our first try way back when, and how many of us are getting it right now? The survey data that shows that the vast majority of adults are unhappy at work tells me all I need to know.
It is wonderful that young professionals have so many options today, but that can create paralysis and a fear of making a mistake. During our panel presentation, every one of the four of us not only admitted to many mistakes, we were laughing about them. But every one of us said that the mistakes we made in our careers usually propelled us to something better.
Because our interests, priorities, values, personal circumstances will change as we grow, learn and yes, age, we must be open to changing our career direction as well. It is tempting and easy to hold on to the familiar as the big changes in life that may be out of our control happen to us. And yes, taking a leap into a new career, or even a new way to utilize your skills and experience is not without risks. But even the most well thought out, agonized-over decision can go into a ditch. Make no mistake—we all go into a “career ditch” from time to time.
When you come to a decision point or a crossroads in your career, make sure that you get clear on what you want in all parts of your life, so that you increase your chances of choosing something that has the best chance for working for you right now vs. forever. Sure, our work is an important part of who we are, but by no means the only part. And we can easily fall into the trap of being who we think or thought we wanted to be, or who others tell us we are. What do you want more of in your life? Less of? What do you never want to do again? The questions are hard, so it can be tempting to keep your head in the sand. If that is your strategy, don’t be surprised if you end up in a place that you never wanted to be.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Carsten Tolkmit