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Mossy trees on hill

In my last post, I discussed the fact that many people’s career paths are not straight and linear. We don’t necessarily “climb the ladder” anymore. Instead, many modern careers resemble a lattice or a tree—branched out and spreading in many different directions. While some may think such a career lacks focus, I would argue that it makes people more well-rounded and gives them a wealth of experiences.

But, how can you possibly map out your goals if your path isn’t straight and linear?

Start by assessing where you are today and where you’d like to be within a few years. Think big-picture. What, ideally, would you like to be doing? What kind of role or roles? What responsibilities? How much money would you like to be making?

Once you have your big picture goal in mind, start thinking about different skills and experiences you will need to get there. Think of these like the branches of a tree, shooting out from the main trunk. To get to where you’d ultimately like to go, you might need to improve your grasp of PowerPoint or become a better public speaker or learn a new type of accounting software. List all the different things you need to learn or experience that will help guide you to your big-picture goal.

Then, break down those items into smaller branches. For instance, if you’d like to become a better public speaker, what do you have to do? Do you need to take classes? Practice in front of a group? Take improv classes? Join Toastmasters? List each of these smaller steps, then add them to your career goal tree.

Remember: Build some flexibility into your plan. It’s possible you’re missing a crucial “branch,” and will need to add it to your tree later. Leave some blank areas in your plan, and fill them in if you happen to get additional insight from others or realize you’re neglecting a certain area.

When you’ve filled out your career goal tree, share it with your boss. [NOTE: This might go with out saying, BUT only share your plan with your boss if your ultimate goal involves your current company.] Explain the different steps you’d like to take to reach your destination, and demonstrate that you’re committed to getting there.

On a personal note, I would be blown away if one of my team members presented such a comprehensive and thoughtful plan to me. This type of visual helps create a fuller, richer picture of what someone needs to do to navigate from Point A to Point B. It’s much more than “I’d like to become a team leader next year.” It’s a well-thought-out plan on how to get there.

If you have any questions about creating your own tree-like career map, please do not hesitate to ask. Let’s get you to where you’d like to be, one branch at a time!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Text over a red lattice
Background image via Alicja from Pixabay

At one time, it was fairly common for a person to spend their entire career at the same company, working their way up the rungs of the organizational ladder. Today, things aren’t nearly so neat and tidy, and career paths are not nearly so straight (or even vertical). Instead of a ladder, many modern workers’ careers resemble a lattice.

How can a career trajectory resemble a lattice?

A lattice fans out in many different directions. It climbs, but not necessarily in a straight line. Similarly, a person might take on a variety of different roles in a number of different industries. They might learn various skills along the way, each one building up their expertise and knowledge base.

This type of “climbing” creates a more well-rounded person—someone who has dipped their toes into many different waters and has developed skills in numerous areas. The latticed career path also inevitably makes people more adaptable—they’ve had to learn the ins and outs of a variety of different workplaces and roles.

If so many modern employees move in a lattice style, how is it possible to map out one’s career? Is it even plausible?

Absolutely. You just have to adjust your thinking. Instead of visualizing your career as “climbing the ladder,” think instead about the different skills you’d like to learn, experiences you’d like to have, and goals you’d like to attain. How will you get there? What training do you need? What roles and responsibilities do you need to fill? These different skillsets and experiences are offshoots of your lattice.

If you’re having trouble with this visual, you can also think about your career path like a tree. While the whole entity goes up, some of the branches are more horizontal than vertical. These branches are the different career detours you might take. You might, for instance, take the time to earn your MBA, learn how to code, or take a class in public speaking. While these little detours may deviate from your main career, they make you more well-rounded and valuable in the end.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how to lay out your non-linear career goals (moving like a lattice or a tree!) in more detail. In the meantime, simply recognize that your trajectory may not be straight, but that doesn’t mean you’re not moving forward and picking up valuable skills and lessons along the way.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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