I recently came across the video clip above where Amy Wrzesniewski, associate professor of organizational behavior at Yale, pulls together scholarship from psychology, sociology, and organizational behavior to provide a rigorous view of the individual’s path through the working world.
Her point that careers are more than just a series of jobs really struck me – and, it’s quite freeing really. We tend to identify ourselves with traits demonstrated when we were children or pigeonhole ourselves into certain roles and industries based on the influence of our parents, partners, friends – even the media and society in general (doctor = good, garbage collector = not so good). For instance, you always liked to argue with your parents when you were younger therefore you should go into law. Or, you were always so caring so you should go into health. To base our career aspirations on such limited analysis and categorisation, is constricting. But, Professor Wrzesniewski points to research that says the reality is our work trajectories actually shape our personalities.
It’s the unfolding of this series of jobs we each have combined with what else is happening in our lives that molds our professional identity. It’s about the bigger picture. While there are elements you can plan for like furthering your education to have a better chance at landing a job or promotion, just as big are the unexpected things that shift like cutbacks, unexpected promotions, redundancy, team dynamics, and so on. It will be the expected and unexpected that shape your personality and point your career in certain directions.
One point Amy touches on that I think is well worth taking away is your choices about jobs affect your career trajectory. From your decision to start babysitting for the neighbors or working as an Assistant Coach for the local footy club to taking a job at a call centre which lands you in an unfamiliar, challenging environment or an internship at a multinational corporation, the experiences you open yourself up to will help guide you. From my perspective, the more experiences you have the more you’ll learn about yourself which provides the basis for better decisions. And, the best part? Your career is an evolution. You can always change it’s direction.
I’d love to hear how a job or a curve ball affected your professional identity or career trajectory?