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How Focusing on Your ‘Career Path’ Can Hurt You in the Long Run

4 minute read

Answer by Nicole Gravagna on Quora.

The biggest mistake people make when they actively try to develop their career is to focus on a developing a career path for themselves to follow.

Why career paths are a mistake

A career path is a described as a series of jobs or roles that you can take to develop your career. The goal is generally to achieve higher paying jobs each time you take a new role. However, you don’t have control over the jobs that are available to you at each point in your career.

What happens when you are ready for the next step in your path, and no one is hiring for that role? You get stuck. What happens when your chosen career path becomes obsolete because of changes in technology advancement? You become obsolete too.

Career paths are outdated

We live in a changing world. You can’t predict what jobs will be available in ten years. How can you plan a career path to get a job that is completely invisible to you?

For the last few generations, developing a career path was good advice. Unfortunately, now it’s outdated advice. Students graduating in 2020 will enter a work world that we can’t predict today (and it’s already 2017). Self-driving cars. Massive automation in retail. Manufacturing and logistics with robotics. We simply can’t know what the future holds. How can you plan a path when you don’t know where you are going?

Plan to navigate off the path

It can be helpful to imagine a career path as an actual path over real landscape so you can get an idea of how career development has to change. In the past, you could look at a map, plan out your waypoints and goals. You could even plan for arrival times.

On a real path, you might look at your watch and think, “we are moving slower than we planned, we better walk faster so we can get to the end of this hike before the sun goes down.”

Imagine the current career landscape to be one without a visible path. Technology has created fast growing plants that change the landscape while you walk. A path might have been visible when you started, but it’s overgrown with vegetation now, and it’s impractical to try to follow old paths, now gone. You don’t know where your goal is and you definitely don’t know how to get there.

New ways of planning goals

Goals are still your waypoints. Except we have to adopt new methods of goal setting. Goals must be independent of the landscape since the landscape is rapidly changing. Instead of a goal like, “get promoted to manager in my company by the time I’m 32,” goals are more like, “learn and apply a new skill set in a professional setting by the time I’m 32.”

The best career development skill you can master is that of achievable goal setting.

  • Choose goals that are within your control. “Get promoted” is not within your control. “Learn and apply knowledge” is within your control.
  • Avoid artificially limiting the circumstances under which your goal can be achieved. “Manager in my company” limits your achievement to a specific company. “In a professional setting” allows you to achieve your goal in any company.
  • Time frames are still important. Although the landscape is rapidly shifting, time has not changed. Make sure you put a deadline on your goals so that you know when it’s time to hurry up.
  • This question originally appeared on Quora: What are key mistakes people make when trying to actively develop their career?

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