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Accidental Career Progression?

aerial view of city highway system

I have an important concept for you this week. In our arsenal of key concepts, the career management trap that we call accidental career progression resonates with a lot of mid and late-career people. So much so, that part of the tag line for the Bold Career Project contains its opposite: Intentional Career Growth. If in looking back at the years of your professional journey to date, you feel that your decisions and moves weren’t intentional, that you took the first decent job offer, sometimes stayed too long in one place, or made reactive decisions, then there is a level of accidental in your career. The consequences can include bad moves (resulting in roles that are unfulfilling or worse), a choppy resume storyline, closing doors on other kinds of opportunities and more. More importantly, it can be a sense of professional fuzziness - that is a lack of clarity of what is your thing.

Three Causes of Accidental Career Progression

From thousands of interactions with mid-career / senior professionals over the years, the accidental career boils down to three causes:

Scarcity & Urgency

When you are not planning forward to set up the circumstances where you can have interesting career options that fit who you are, your career decisions and moves will be based on scarcity and urgency. This is an un-managed career.

Rabbit Holes

Another cause is when you’ve been assigned to jobs and projects that you don’t find fulfilling and yet you remain. Or you have developed expertise in an area that doesn’t translate well to the market. These are often highly specialized, “niche” assignments important for your company, but not particularly transferable. Or, you’ve been hired repeatedly for a key skill set, one that you’re done and bored with. X years later, you need or want to make a move and feel boxed in.

Beliefs & No Vision

Finally, a lack of a personal vision, goals or plan and the personal belief and confidence that you have a unique role to play in the market creates behaviours where you settle, or put up with negative circumstances. You don’t take the steps to identify your unique professional assets and act accordingly. Which isn't to say that all accidental career moves are bad. Perhaps you have a strong network and skills and keep getting approached for new jobs.  Perhaps you’ve benefited from serendipity where an unplanned opportunity changed your life for the good. In general, though, it is better to be more strategic about this than leave it to change. The good news is that you can do something about it from today going forward.

The Antidote to Accidental is Intention & Attention

Intention first involves confidence and courage. You are uniquely valuable and deserve to have at least a positive, if not enormously fulfilling professional trajectory! Second, put the time-in before you need it. The quality of your moves, the pursuit of exciting goals or even taking the important step of landing into an organization, team, and role that is a better, happier fit for you is best set up well in advance of when you need it. And finally, you need to be strategic. There are a variety of steps and levers to move you forward that involves more than just working harder or “dusting off the resume” and finding a new job right away. I am excited to be working on the launch of a full-scale Career Growth program in 2020. It will give you a roadmap to have to get on track and level up. For now, here are a few questions to help get you started:

Let’s Make it Practical

  1. Take a quick look backward. To what extent have your career moves been accidental vs. intentional?

  2. Were they positive or negative moves? Is there a pattern? What learning can you take from this?

  3. Based on where you are at now, how could more attention and intention on your professional journey improve the quality of your professional and personal life, now and in the future?

  4. As you become more intentional, make a list: What do you want more of? What do you want less of?

  5. What are one or two practical things you could do in the very short term to awaken this spirit of intentionality about your professional journey?

If this idea of the accidental career resonates with you, don't worry. You've got this. You can change your trajectory today. If this is something you'd like to work on with our coaching team and programs, get in touch. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week.

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