I think, it would be difficult for most of the working professionals to not relate to these lines –
“And in those first few years of work, we were all about promotions and pay rises. We were preoccupied by the positions that we held and how senior our job titles sounded. And on the surface, everything seemed to be on track. But we started to get the sense that the ladder might actually be holding us back. The obvious next step wasn’t always the most appealing, and we were both excited about exploring opportunities that weren’t necessarily based on what we’d done before.”
Well, they did catch my attention, and as I listened further – I got hooked. Off the top of my head, I recall Ellen Huerta expressing similar feelings when she left Google. this is from her article at that time –
I couldn’t put it into words at the time, but something inside of me was telling me I shouldn’t continue down the career path I was on. I felt strongly that it wasn’t getting me closer to where I wanted to be, though that destination was largely unknown, and I had to get off that road.
~ Ellen Huerta (on why she left Google)
There’s personal connections to this short talk by Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper, but I’m adding it after the video. Please do watch it (~ 10 mins) before you read further.
As they discuss their squiggly careers, here are some interesting excerpts –
A squiggly career is both full of uncertainty and full of possibility. Change is happening all of the time. Some of it is in our control, and some of it’s not. Success isn’t one-size-fits-all. Our squiggles are as individual as we are.
I’ve moved from making magazines to working on food waste, from a five- to a four-day week so I could spend more time on personal projects and volunteering.
~ Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper
I had written about my own explorations during my sabbatical back in 2014, when I decided to pursue my interests beyond software/technology. When I was looking to resume work after all those explorations, the potential employers/clients were least interested in my sabbatical, or my insights. They obviously wanted to understand what skills & value I’d bring to the organization. As for me, I wanted to have some spare time so that I could nurture the interests, the parts of me that are not tied to my (paid) work. So I discussed and negotiated my time commitment per week. Of course, such assignments came with a huge reduction in my income. My time commitment varied from 15 hrs/week to 36 hrs/week, with my income ranging from 25% to 80% of my earlier income – but I was willing to accept it at that time. I trained myself to live below my means at that time, and it still helps me.
Well, those unusual arrangements allowed me to indulge in all those “nothing much” activities. I conducted some workshops, spoke to kids about their ideas of career. I took the courses that are not even remotely related to my profession – such as psychometrics, food-nutrition, gut microbiome, short-film making, and so on. I went on a motorbike trip to Ladakh, traveled on a shoestring budget to interesting places (some of them show up here as the cover images). I also helped a few individuals with their self-explorations, career challenges. I built my own psychometric app (rather, an MVP of the app), and explored how it can help individuals in their own career. The app still exists as a side-project, but I haven’t been able to figure out ways to generate sustainable revenue from it. I built another contactless app last year to help the medical professionals during the C19 pandemic. Nah, I didn’t make money from that one either. 🙂
This year, I’ve taken up a full-time assignment, and that work allows little free time now. That’s one of the reasons why posts here get delayed occasionally. One needs to adapt as per the situation. The reason I’m discussing my explorations and my failures because I don’t have it all figured-out, or settled at this stage. When it’s not a typical career path/ladder, you need to figure it out as you go – you need to take decision as you deem fit at that point in time, and you never know how it will turn up. Moreover, you’re bound to make mistakes while doing all this – that’s inevitable.
The squiggle path
I think most of us have seen a similar image about success. I just have one point to add here – the top of the arrow on the right (squiggle) is often not at par with the one on the left (straight). When you explore, when you’re more interested in growing in multiple directions (horizontal growth), you need to let go of the peaks of unidirectional vertical growth. Let me tell you one secret from my own experience – it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t really matter because you don’t derive your life-satisfaction from a single pursuit, your life is not about a single professional identity.
What’s wrong with the career ladder?
Absolutely nothing is wrong with the conventional career ladder if you like it. It is just that some of us are not comfortable with that idea. The idea of the squiggly career may appeal to a multipotentialite/renaissance soul or someone with Spiral Career Concept (I’m one), but it may not appeal to someone with Linear Career Concept. Not everyone needs to quit a comfortable job that offers them the conventional growth path, if they enjoy climbing that ladder. But if you want to explore other aspects of your own being, if you want to experiment what all you can do with your interests, don’t let that ladder hold you back.
BTW, let me share one more secret here – You juggle on the squiggle, the road is hazy, the dust never settles, and you never have it all figured out as you walk on your own zen path. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Career concepts & career paths – Why some people value expertise more than status/title, why some people experiment and explore. Work of Michael Driver and Ken Brousseau.
- So, are you passionate about everything that you do? – Understanding what it means to be a multipotentialite/renaissance soul.
The featured image used for this article is by Stefan Keller from Pixabay, and I am using it here with gratitude.