While a “career path” sounds clear, it can be anything but.
Debra Bednar-Clark, CEO and founder of career and leadership coaching firm DB+co, told Business Insider that in reality, very few people see their path from the start.
“Later in my career, I realized that it’s rarely a straight line to wherever you’re going,” she said. “In my experience, there are a handful of people who know from an early age what they’re meant to do in life, and for everyone else, it’s really a continual process that requires being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.”
Before starting her own company, Bednar-Clark was the global head of strategy and growth at Facebook, and spent time as Microsoft’s director of US market strategy and engagement.
“For me, for example, every career decision I’ve ever made has been about what felt right to me in that moment,” she said. “What I was drawn to, what I wanted to learn more about, what I wanted to believe in, while also developing skills, which meant that my career hasn’t been linear. I like to say it’s been beautifully messy.”
Now that she’s created the perfect job for herself, she makes a point of aligning her intentions with her mission daily, to make sure she’s serving, learning, and growing the best she can. She does this with a question:
“Have I brought my whole self forward to be of service, to make someone else’s life better?”
“I think service is incredibly unique based on your role in the company and your own mission,” she continued, “but for me, I ask myself, for example, ‘Did I help a client see a new perspective or shift their mindset so they’re one step closer to reaching their goals? Did I help a client slay her compensation goals, or title dreams, or professional milestones that she wanted to conquer? Did I help someone take one step closer to bringing their whole, authentic self to work?'”
She asks the same question for her personal life, too, from connecting with valued friends to nurturing her marriage. For clients looking for direction on their own career paths, she recommends knowing where your true interests lie. She tells clients to stay open to meeting new people, having new experiences, and fielding new perspectives to find those interests.
“If you’re doing the outreach, and connecting with different people in different industries and exposing yourself to different things,” she said, “it just really helps you understand what’s resonating for you, so you can make those decisions that are much more strategic and be successful and fulfilled in your career.”
This story originally appeared on Business Insider.