Your Career. Your Game. Your Rules.

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you asked me this question when I was eight I would have told you I was going to be Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

Throughout high school I would have answered with things like scientist or perhaps graphic designer (closely related I know).

When it finally came to year 12 and I had to properly consider what I wanted to do with my life … I would have given you the highly profound answer of “I don’t know”.

How was I meant to choose what I wanted to do with the rest of my life when I was only 17? The commitment to a single path was huge and daunting!

What no-one told me was that the choice I made was not set in stone. Choosing what to study did not mean setting myself on a fixed path that could not be changed. It is one of societies great misconceptions … somewhere along the way we start to believe that you choose a career and start climbing a ladder and after the first rung you reach for the second and so on and so forth.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook challenges this in her commencement speech to a group of Harvard Business School Graduates. She says:

“Careers are not a ladder; they’re a jungle gym. Look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job, don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb. If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed my career.”

The Foundation for Young Australians’ further backs this notion with some simple statistics. They estimate that a young person today will have five career changes and an average of 17 jobs in their lifetime.

So if a career is not what we grow up thinking it is … then what is it exactly? And what are some other misconceptions we are basing our lives on?

1 // The career ladder is more of a jungle gym and there is no set path for anyone.

As Sheryl Sandberg said in her speech, a career is not a ladder that you climb straight up. A career is more of a jungle gym and rarely does anyone follow the same path.

When I finally got to University I found myself in a business course. For lack of knowing what I wanted to do in life … Mum suggested a business course because even if I changed my mind and wanted to do something else later on – the business skills would always serve me.

She was right and turns out I quite liked business. I found myself really wanting to get into HR and the company culture side of things. That was until I did land my dream role and only a few months in a boss encouraged me to try a different role she thought I would love even more. Turns out she was right too and 12 months into career I already found myself changing direction.

Since then I have had countless changes and shifts: many of which I never saw coming. But looking back from where I am today and every one of them was a crucial part of my journey.

Moral of the story: If you expect change, the ride will be a lot more enjoyable.

2 // It’s easy to overthink your career.

Our career is super important and something that should not be taken lightly. Careful consideration and planning are the keys to success.

Well maybe. When we get caught up in analysing everything in too much depth, we often miss the opportunity that is sitting right in front of us.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s speech that I mentioned above, she talks about looking for a job after finishing her MBA and naturally to analyse her different options she created a spreadsheet. One of those options was to be Google’s first business unit general manager. This is what she had to say about that opportunity …

“So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him the spread sheet and I said, this job meets none of my criteria. He put his hand on my spreadsheet and he looked at me and said, ‘don’t be an idiot’. Excellent career advice. And then he said, ‘get on a rocket ship’. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”

Moral of the story: Opportunities will sometimes come your way, and you just need to grab them. Don’t overthink it.

3 // The only person who needs to be happy with what you’re doing …. is YOU.

A career is quite an outward facing thing. When you meet someone new one of the first questions often asked is “so what do you do?” … and very often the answer we give defines us.

I’m a surgeon. I’m a barista. I’m an accountant. I’m an artist.

All of those are simple descriptions of what someone does for a career. Yet in our minds we don’t just hear the job description, we also hear the definition of the worth of a person and their standing in society.

And because we know that we are judged on what our career is, it’s easy to do something just to make sure the perception we are putting out there is how we want to be seen.

Who cares what other people think! Do what makes you happy. Not what will please Mum, or Dad or your teacher or significant other. You need to do what makes YOU happy.

Think about it … the average adult will spend 1/3 of their life at work. Or if you want to break that into hours: 91,250 hours working. That’s a long time to stay doing something that you really don’t enjoy.

Moral of the story: Your career belongs to you. The only person you need to impress with it is YOU.

Hopefully what you realise from this article is that you are in the driver’s seat of your career journey. It’s okay if there are a few bumps, twists and turns along the way … that’s what makes the drive exciting! Remember to enjoy the view as you go and the connections you pick up along the way.

>> You can watch the full address by Sheryl Sandberg (referenced throughout the article) below.