In today’s world, careers have often been described as “boundaryless“. We build our career paths and seek fulfillment by collecting experiences — often across organizations, supervisors and work content. Moreover, we struggle to maintain “career fit” within this context during the course of our work lives. What we seek growth-wise at specific points, can delineate our paths. Inevitably, we seek situations where we can find alignment with our current career vision.
There are various combinations of elements (such as challenge and stability) that describe growth “states”. After listening to countless career stories, the following states appeared salient.We can flux in and out of these, depending on our goals (both in and out of work). Some contributors seem comfortable remaining in one state during their entire career, while others might shift to meet their evolving perspectives.
Above all, knowing thyself is critical. Individual contributors (and organizations alike) should build awareness concerning how our career growth needs might differ from each other — and how an individual’s needs can pivot over time.
To explore a growth strategy, asking these questions may help:
- Recall a time when you were satisfied with your career growth. How were you growing?
- How did that growth state align with your needs and goals?
- Have your career growth goals tended to evolve significantly over time or have they remained constant?
- Do you lean towards being proactive or relatively passive where career growth is concerned?
- How might voicing your growth state positively affect your career satisfaction?
Four Career Growth States
- Future Forward. In this state, we may hold a role aligned with our education and experience — yet there is often a career step in their “back pocket” that serves as a longer-term, motivating goal. Whether this entails preparation for a strong pivot or perhaps becoming an entrepreneur — we are firmly focused miles ahead. Gaining skills to ensure the dream comes alive is crucial. Organizations can contribute by building foundational skills, networks and intrapreneurship opportunities.
- Calibrating. This state can involve a single path, as long as we have the opportunity to add or delete tasks/content that meets the need for challenge and learning. We might incorporate a constant flow of industry research or new veins of thought concerning products and customers. An expansion of the horizon, while bringing that information to our work is critical — and multiple benefits can be realized.
- Progressive. While here, we are focused on building a new “morphed” path, integrating novel or disruptive elements (such as technology) smack into our area of expertise. We allow skills to co-exist that others may never envision together and this helps drive us forward. A high tolerance for ambiguity likely co-exists here, with a healthy dose of “progressive ambition”— as the steps of this path reveal themselves only as time goes on.
- Steady-State. Healthy stability is the name of the game here. Contributors desire a specific role and enjoy maintaining a strong, singular focus for an extended period of time. We are less likely to job hop for salary or title, but might move along with a specific group of contributors aimed at an area of interest. Solving long term problems is often the hallmark.
So — where are you? Have I missed a growth category? Do we stay fixated in one state, or does this shift over time? Share your story.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Organizational Development at Allied Talent. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her posts on workplace topics have appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum.