When most people think of a career, the first thing that comes to mind is a job. A career, however, is so much more than just a job. It’s a lifelong journey of exploration and growth, learning new things, and making new connections. It’s about finding your passion and following it wherever it may lead you. And above all, it’s about making a difference in the world.
So what exactly is a career path? In its simplest form, it’s the road you take from where you are now to where you want to be in the future. It’s the sequence of steps you take – sometimes small and incremental, sometimes large and dramatic – that leads you from Point A to Point B. But more than that, it’s also about where you want to go and what you ultimately want to accomplish. Read on to learn more about how a career path is defined and where you can find your own.
1. What Is a Career Path?
Here’s a simple definition: A career path is a road from one point in your life to another. But it’s not enough to know what something is; you also need to know how this affects what you do. So let’s break this down.
We define Point A as the beginning of your journey, where you are today; Point B represents where you want to go in the future – that is, what you ultimately want to accomplish professionally. Think of Point B as your goal or destination for this stage of your career.
When most people think of a career path, they think of the steps that lead from Point A to Point B. The closer you are to reaching your destination, the fewer steps there will be in your journey. In other words, if you’re starting in your current position and have only been working for a short time, it’s going to take some time (and many steps) to move closer to your ultimate career goal. On the other hand, if you’re very close to your destination, it will only take one or two steps (or perhaps even fewer) for you to get there.
2. Finding Your Career Path
If you don’t know where Point B is yet, that’s OK – most people don’t. It’s normal to be uncertain about your destination and how you’re going to get there and – as we’ll discuss later on – that is OK. However, one of the essential parts of taking control of your career is knowing where you ultimately want to end up.
Once you know what Point B is, the next step is figuring out how to get there. That’s where the journey comes in. The path from Point A to Point B can be broken down into several smaller journeys, each of which represents a step you need to take to reach your destination.
These small journeys are what we refer to as career paths. So if you’re starting your career, your career path might consist of many small steps – perhaps short-term assignments or projects at work, for example. If you’re in the middle of your career, however, it could require several more giant steps – perhaps promotions within your company or even a move to another city.
As with everything else in life, there are different career paths. There are two main types that we’ll discuss in more detail below: linear career paths and nonlinear career paths.
3. What’s the Difference?
Both types of careers can follow a sequence of steps (i.e., series of actions or activities), but the order is often different between steps, making it difficult to map out in advance.
Linear career paths are relatively straightforward to create because each step is directly connected to the one that comes before it. For example, if you’re a graphic designer who wants to move into advertising, there’s a clear path for you: First, you’d gain experience as a graphic designe at your current company, then you’d cross over into advertising.
Career paths for linear careers are relatively easy to create because each step is directly connected to the one before it.
On the other hand, nonlinear career paths tend to be more difficult (usually impossible) to map out in advance. They tend to follow a less direct path and progress erratically, and the steps involved often depend on factors beyond your control. For example, you might want to become a journalist, but – as we’ve discussed before – there is no easy roadmap for how to do this. Even if you find an entry-level position in your chosen field, it’s unlikely that one particular job will move you any closer to your goal.
If you’re unsure whether your career path is linear or nonlinear, ask yourself if each step is directly connected to the one that comes before it. If it isn’t, it’s probably nonlinear (also known as a non-sequential career).
Linear career paths are relatively easy to create because each step is directly connected to the one before it. Nonlinear career paths, on the other hand, tend to be more difficult (usually impossible) to map out in advance.
4. Taking Control of Your Career Path
Earlier, we mentioned that taking control of your career often means figuring out where Point B is and determining how you’re going to get there. As it turns out, this is not always easy to do – especially if you don’t know what your destination will look like once you arrive.
Taking control of your career also requires you to take charge of the journey. This means overcoming some of the standard mental and emotional blocks that keep you second-guessing your career path and make it difficult for you to move forward.
If you find yourself stuck or unfocused, consider taking a step back to reflect on your career path and the progress you’ve been making. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to take action – but before you do anything else, start thinking about what Point B will look like for you. In other words: What does success look like? How do you want to be remembered? How can you make a difference in the world?
In some ways, taking control of your career path is an ongoing process that can extend throughout your entire life. It’s full of ups and downs – but when done right, it will always leave you feeling fulfilled and capable of achieving whatever you want.
A career path definition can be tricky because it varies from person to person. While one individual may view their career as a series of promotions and positions, another might see their work as more entrepreneurial. The best way to define your career path is by considering what you want out of life and then finding a job or set of jobs that will help you get there. Do you want stability? Variety? Creative expression? Financial security? Once you know what’s important to you, it’ll be easier to find a career that satisfies those needs. And don’t forget to ask others for advice too–friends, family members, mentors, etc. They may have some great insights into what kind of work would make you happy.