A Career Has Many Doors

Open DoorWhen my boys were grade schoolers I loved spending time in their classrooms. One year, I volunteered as the “Picture Parent” — where I was responsible for sharing the work of great artists. At other times, I attended classroom celebrations. The children were always such an energizing force. I would always try to start a conversation about their very early aspirations concerning work and career, “What do you want to be when you are older?” As you can imagine, their answers had no bounds; astronauts, doctors, teachers, to be like “Mom” or “Dad”.

One particular answer struck me as a little unusual. One 6 year-old boy let me know that he wanted to be two things — a lawyer as his parents were both practicing attorneys  — or a “pancake flipper”.  This caught me a little off guard, but I was very curious as to how this highly specific interest developed. (His mother confirmed his early passion for all things related to cooking.) So, I inquired as why he chose that particular role.  He responded very quickly and with great passion, “Because I’m really good at it”.

All I could muster in response was, “That’s an excellent reason.” Which it certainly was.

In the minds of children, the career horizon is limitless. Any spark of talent has the possibility of being realized and any interest explored. But, with the passage of time, we often leave behind one or two of these “sparks”. This happens slowly, yet surely — as we place certain aspirations, skills and talents on the shelf and close the “virtual” door.

Life happens. Work happens. We modify our career aspirations to meet the opportunities which are presented. Moving forward as best we can.

However, there is a cost. I believe there exists much untapped potential within our workforce. Among us are hidden innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, leaders and mentors. Many with dreams and pockets of untapped talent — locked behind the “virtual” doors that have closed. I would like to think that we can weave them back into our work lives somehow. But first we must pause and acknowledge them.

A career has many doors — and it is up to us to open them.

Have you left a career dream behind and rediscovered it in some way? Share your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also covers career and workplace topics for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

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2 thoughts on “A Career Has Many Doors

  1. Thanks Marla for sharing such a wonderful and deep analysis of insights that is trying to cap the talent of the young generation behind that Virtual Door. There is so much that could be pursued by the young generation with the wings of freedom. Many times, parents don’t seem to understand them and their thought process, may be, simply because they are trying to see their own aspirations in their children.

    I am sure that if children are given the freedom to do what they love instead of pushing them with the stigma of society to do something that we or the society seems fit. There is always a right position and right opportunity for everyone irrespective of the fierce competition shaping their paths. Every individual is unique with some talent that could help them carve out a niche of their own.

    The parents only need to realize it so as to let them fly with their own wings and even sky won’t be the limit for our young enthusiastic generation.

  2. One can’t agree more Marla. I believe the similar approach is so much required from the employer’s perspective at today’s workplace. In the era of innovation, competition and communication where employees are expected to be super inventive and highly adaptive chameleons, how often do we really give a due regard to their natural skills and sincere aspirations (let alone the dormant ones). Imagine the ideal answer of a hiring manager or a supervisor when a maintenance engineer expresses his interest to be a graphic designer, without spilling another moment the counter reaction comes as “what experience do you have in designing, zero – and that makes you absolutely incompetent and a dangerous misfit for the position”. Words may vary but the expression remains the same, with an additional career advice that says “It’s much promising for your career to stick to what you have been doing last ‘x’ years, do not plan for a plunge that may lead to sinking”.

    Managers often are more resistant and have more reasons to justify why an employee shouldn’t talk of a different aspiration that makes an outlier to the former’s roll out plans. Why can’t they afford to drop that one significant employee as a milestone on their sinuous road map. For the obvious reasons, that they want their employees to be ‘urgently useful’, which leads to a general tendency of restraining (and sometimes penalizing) the workforce by thriving in aspirations. All other experiments at a workplace relating to work are seen as the agents of innovation, but an experiment with ones career is seen as a risk close to rebellion.

    What you suggest stops the employers by adapting the same approach as parents when it comes to individual aspirations, why do they choose to opt for short term benefits over long term losses. In the cheat-sheets of employee engagement and work morale, do you think “career has many doors” approach could be equally if not more useful for today’s employers.

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