A better framework for your professional journey

One thing appeared very mistaken with the way in which I’d been taught to consider my profession development. Like so many people, I’d heard professional journeys described as climbing a ladder or following a path. However as I moved ahead in my work as a journalist, I wasn’t transferring in a straight line. The sector I used to be pursuing, known as viewers engagement, was comparatively new. I actually hadn’t taken any programs on it in faculty, and two of the businesses I might later work for didn’t even exist once I graduated. How was I presupposed to know which path to take when it was nonetheless underneath building?

I additionally didn’t see the last word purpose of my profession as reaching the top of the food chain. I’ve no need to be a CEO. And I saved assembly proficient professionals, folks I admired tremendously, who considered the twists and turns of their careers as a disadvantage, not a profit. With an apologetic air, they’d discuss how they explored totally different areas of their work and the way they struggled to provide you with a easy, clear story to elucidate their résumés.

So I began telling college students to think about their careers not as a linear development straight up or forward, however as a river delta—a fertile space to discover that flows towards an final goal.


The seems to be of reduction on their faces as they realized they don’t must decide to a one-size-fits-all path clearly confirmed me that there’s a better story we are able to use for our work in right this moment’s data financial system. And to be sincere, I wouldn’t wish to work in a subject full of tangible duplicates who journey from level A to B with no deviations. It’s variety of thought and expertise that drives creativity and innovation.

So let’s take into account what occurs once we free ourselves from attempting to achieve the highest of the ladder, and as an alternative carve our personal paths as a profession river flowing towards our final goal: the ocean. When your professional vacation spot is now not a lonely perch however a thriving wide-open ecosystem fed by the work of others to discover, each twist and switch in your journey adjustments from a legal responsibility to a energy.

Discovering your circulation

A secret I solely absolutely realized not too long ago: I’m not a robotic. Some days I’ve extra vitality than others, or I’m better ready to think about the massive image. And my work historical past additionally has durations of nice change and a few slower spells. May it’s that I don’t want to maneuver by way of my profession at a gradual tempo, rung by inevitable rung?

As a substitute, I’ve come to just accept that every thing occurs in its personal time. Fairly than feeling caught on a profession ladder once I haven’t shifted roles for some time, I can relaxation safe within the data {that a} river at all times flows, irrespective of how slowly. So long as I’m studying, I’m transferring towards my final purpose, or ocean. For me, it’s not about climbing to the highest. We are able to every outline our personal locations. As soon as we do, it turns into clearer which decisions will assist us attain that ocean.

This additionally helps with profession adjustments. On a profession ladder, you would possibly “lose” a rung or have to start out climbing once more at a brand new group. It looks like a step again. A river’s curves and adjustments in course are all a part of the journey. What got here earlier than informs what flows after. This takes a few of the strain off job-hunting choices, too. Whereas a profession ladder has just one course, a profession river can create a delta of many alternative paths, all equally legitimate to pursue. Not solely is it OK to shift instructions, it’s anticipated. We have to give ourselves the liberty to discover what issues to us as an alternative of locking ourselves to one inflexible path.

Navigating obstacles

Once I first tweeted in regards to the profession river, one of many commenters shared a therapeutic technique utilized in occupational remedy, known as the Kawa Model. This mannequin makes use of a river metaphor to see how shoppers wish to dwell their lives, and contains contemplating the circumstances that block your progress as rocks within the river.


In the event you embrace your profession as a river as an alternative of a ladder, you’re better in a position to confront these obstacles. If you attain a ceiling on the profession ladder, the one approach you possibly can preserve going is to shatter it. When your profession river encounters an impediment, you possibly can go round it, or over it, or carve by way of it. You might be able to get previous what’s blocking your approach rapidly, or it could take a while; however in both case, you’ve gotten a number of methods to get the place you’re attempting to go.

Not solely does this give us extra choices when our progress turns into blocked, however it additionally acknowledges the time and effort it takes to interrupt down limitations—and the way stunning the outcomes could be. In any case, there’s no Grand Canyon with out the Colorado River.

Importantly, too, this reminds us that it’s doable to maintain progressing even once we’re stalled, or in free fall. A profession ladder that falls is damaged. A river turns into a waterfall, after which retains flowing.

Cooperation, not competitors

I’m not the lone-wolf journalist you see in motion pictures. I wasn’t thinking about successful Pulitzers or breaking the massive investigative story solo. (Nor was I a kind of rom-com heroines working at {a magazine} who by no means appears to file a narrative.)

In actual fact, I solely turned a reporter so I may at some point be an editor. What I used to be most thinking about was working with others to make our whole newspaper better. At the moment, I work on collaborative tasks amongst many newsrooms to create extra significant and impactful journalism.

So, a profession mannequin that celebrated stepping on others or pushing them apart to achieve my objectives by no means felt proper to me. Working with others is central to what I do and what I care about. No river is actually alone: It’s fed by many tributaries alongside the way in which and contributes to different rivers in flip. Each time rivers be part of collectively, they change into stronger.

My profession is richer—not weaker—for having others contribute their experience.

Prepared, set, circulation

The tales we inform ourselves matter. If, like me, you want a better framework for describing what you worth in your work, right here’s how one can start pursuing your personal profession river:

  • Determine your ocean. What’s going to your legacy be? Figuring out the place you wish to contribute will make it easier to visualize what you are able to do to get there.

  • Embrace selection. Settle for that your profession will undergo quick and gradual durations, so discover the various totally different paths out there to you.

  • Navigate obstacles. Typically, it is likely to be better to only go in a distinct course than attempt to clear what’s blocking your approach, and that’s high quality. What issues is you could preserve going.

  • Discover energy in collaboration. Who has contributed to your profession? How are their contributions nonetheless current in your work? And who are you able to assist alongside their very own journey? Look for these heading to the identical ocean to strengthen your profession, and see how one can assist others.

A profession ladder creates no worth besides for the individual climbing it, whereas a profession river feeds a complete ecosystem. I’d slightly dwell in a professional world of rivers the place all of us can float collectively.

This article initially appeared on Zapier’s blog and is reprinted with permission.