Do You Have an “Accidental” Career?
Sometimes a non-linear path can lead straight to career success.
You know that old adage about people just falling into their professions? That somehow they got to where they are today by accident?
Yeah, I’m familiar with that concept. And with the confusion from others that often accompanies the non-linear path to achieve that unique position.
I’ve worked in advertising, marketing, communications, branding and travel/tourism, and in every instance, my parents never quite knew what I did for a living.
When I worked in advertising, they assumed that their creative child was the ones writing the ads. (I wasn’t.)
When I became a branding consultant, they thought I might be designing logos. (Nope.)
When I was tapped to run a thing called a convention and visitors bureau, they mistakenly thought I worked at the local Chamber or City. (Not exactly.)
And when I became an industry relations liaison they thought that my job was all about fun. (Okay, that’s pretty accurate.)
I think the confusion exists because, unlike others, my career path has not been a completely linear one. This used to frustrate me (and probably my parents) and make me think that something must be “wrong” with me, especially since my awesome siblings seem to have it together.
My older sister figured out early on that she was going to be a lawyer (like our Dad), so she chose college courses that would set her up for success, and ultimately, entrance to law school. Once there, she became the editor-in-chief of Law Review, clerked, and sailed through the bar exam in California. And then again in Washington state. And again in Idaho.
My younger sister always loved children and spent every summer working with kids at a local camp. No surprise then, that after getting her undergraduate degree in Psychology she applied to nursing school, she aced her exams and has been a pediatric oncology nurse and educator at a prestigious hospital for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, I went to college with the idea that I’d like to do something “creative,” vacillating between majoring in Communications and Visual Arts. I loved creative writing and storytelling, but also enjoyed the collaborative leadership aspect of working with a group to bring a film to life. In the end, I married the two by majoring in Visual Arts, with an emphasis in Film & Media, and minoring in Communications.
So my first job out of school was as a filmmaker, right? Uh, no.
Two words: transferable skills.
I figured out pretty quickly that to succeed, and actually enjoy my profession, I’d have to forge my own path. Coming from a family of more traditional, linear path seekers, I was sometimes met with eye rolling and resistance. But I was determined to find my way, and to me, that meant going after things that seemed interesting and exploring new opportunities when they presented themselves, even (and sometimes, especially) if they were a bit scary and challenged me.
I never knew what a branding consultant was (or that it was a real, paying job) before I attended Landor Associates’ Halloween party that year.
Or the time I was looking to find a job (and instead found a the start of a career in a new, amazing industry) when I interviewed at something called a convention & visitors bureau.
Through my various gigs, I’ve been able to use and build upon a set of transferable skills that has transcended industry or job function.
So what’s been my common thread? I’ve always been in the middle. And that’s a good thing. It’s where I do my best work.
From a very young age, I had to learn to be an excellent communicator. Observer. Facilitator. Collaborative and creative leader. What I gravitate to, and excel at, is being able to quickly assess what’s working and what’s not, come up with recommendations and an action plan to improve, strengthen and build, then deliver results. I also quite frequently find myself serving as a liaison between disparate groups and factions, leading the way to consensus. And those things are enhanced, rather than hindered, by non-linear thinking. Which makes perfect sense, given that I’m now a consultant.
What I’ve come to realize is that my career (and I’d venture to say yours, as well) has been anything but accidental. Instead, I’ve simply decided to pursue those opportunities that interest and challenge me. And in that way, my career has been very intentional.
Albeit in a roundabout way.
Now if someone could please explain to my parents what I do, that would be great.
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Amy is the president of rbp consulting, a consultancy specializing in helping transform organizations in transition. When she’s not involved in some sort of makeover, you’ll find her…unhappy. She enjoys being a badass writer, playing co-ed volleyball, and pretending she has her own HGTV show. She digs time with her friends and family, which includes a yellow lab named Rigby, and considers almond milk lattes a food group.
And no, her parents still don’t know what she does for a living, though they suspect it involves writing.