Next Steps & Career Paths
“I’m not sure what to do now.” — friends who have been laid off, who are “empty nesters”, or who are looking to pivot into a tech career
I’d love love love to tell my friends what the “perfect job” is for them and how to get it, but I just don’t know. Career paths are unique and unpredictable.
The leading advice for how to find your perfect career is to have a plan. To know exactly what you want and go after it. But for me — and for so many folks I’ve talked to recently — that advice doesn’t work. We freeze in “analysis paralysis.”
My advice instead: just take the next step.
Sometimes that next step is applying for a job, sometimes it’s reaching out to someone new on LinkedIn, and other times it’s just getting out of bed.
True, my advice is not earth-shattering and, arguably, not an original thought. It’s still worth remembering and heck, people have been quoting ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu, for thousands of years, so there’s probably something to it. (unrelated: have you read The Tao of Pooh?!? hands down my favorite philosophy book!)
A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step - Lao Tzu
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I didn’t know what I wanted to be. Turns out “Enable non-programmers to build enterprise applications” was not on any of the career quizzes I took.
I tried a new quiz last week, to see if they’ve added my career. They haven’t. Even so, the Time For Kids Hot Jobs quiz is worth checking out!
- Great user interface.
- Thoughtfully inclusive, flipping stereotypes and not gendering the roles.
- Wide range of job options, including Graphic Designer, Forest and Conservation Worker, and Auto Mechanic.
They also said I “might get along well with” Megan Rapinoe!!! (If you see her, please let her know.)
What will you do after high school?
I went to college. Not because I had a big vision (other than wanting to keep playing field hockey), but because I didn’t know it was optional.
My parents were the first in their families to go to college — which was a really big deal. Their grandparents had come to the US for a better life. College was their path from working class to middle class, and they wanted my sister and I to stay on that path. (Note they stoically never said any of this, just just failed to mention that there were other options.)
In college, when it came time to choose my major, my next step wasn’t based on a grand vision. It was a process of elimination:
- Political Science? Nope.
- Sociology? No.
- Finance? Economics? Chemistry? Yeah, um, no. I can’t do any of these.
I crossed everything off. All that was left was Math, with a Computer Science emphasis (let’s remember this was BEFORE the internet) and a Creative Writing minor. My counselor said I’d have a lot of job options. Sounded good to me!
What will you do after college?
My counselor was right: I had options. I narrowed it down to two.
Me: I have to work the next 50 years, I should try to find something I enjoy.
Also me: Job A pays twice as much as Job B, I should give Job A a try. If I hate it, I can do Job B. (Spoiler: I didn’t hate it.)
I took Job A. They trained me. I dug in and learned all I could. Worked hard. It was interesting. I had fun. I didn’t think long-term about how it would play out for my career. I just took the next available step, did that thing, and then another step appeared.
(Note: Job B was on my Time for Kids Hot Jobs list!)
Sometimes, my next step was financially driven (oh you’ll pay me more?), sometimes interest driven (implementing out-of-the-box software is getting boring, what if I was designing that software?), and sometimes forced (divorce / hostile acquisition / layoff … #IYKYK).
Always, the next step involved a person:
- a friend who said “follow me” to a company I’d never heard of
- a former coworker who told me about an opportunity at a cool startup
- my wife who didn’t let me just lay on the floor and eat chocolate
The lesson here: You can’t plan for all the steps.
Sometimes (all the time, really) it’s out of your control. Be like Pooh — who represents P’u (the Uncarved Block) in Taoism — just take the next small step (get dressed, make breakfast, take a fun quiz, try something new that you’ve always been curious about, text a friend, go to coffee, etc.), and be open to whatever comes after that.
p.s. Everyone who’s struggling, searching for that next step, I’m here if you want to talk, drink coffee, or eat chocolate. I’ve got you. 🤗