Mapping your career path

Bessegen Mountain Range

Earlier this summer our family along with some close friends hiked the famous Besseggen Mountain Ridge in Norway.  The hike provided breathtaking views of the fjord and valley below as well as diverse terrain ranging from tree covered topography, to snow covered tundra to rock walls.  The hike took eight plus hours to complete and included some technical terrain that was challenging to all of us.

As I reflected on the hike and the reviewed the fact that we covered ten plus miles and an elevation change of over five thousand feet I began to think about the thrills along the journey and realize how quickly we have forgotten the fatigue, sore legs and disappointment the kids felt each time we thought we reached the top only to find a higher peak to climb.  That realization made me think about my work as an executive coach.  One helpful activity I ask my clients to do is to create a visual career timeline.  On the X axis I have them create a timeline listing years from the time they graduated from high school to the present.  On the Y axis I have them create a legend for career growth.  The next step is to plot points on the graph that show each job or pivotal career cross-roads that they have faced. 

The activity typically creates a graph that looks more like a mountain range than a straight line.  What we learn is that careers don’t typically follow a straight line.  

Career Transition Chart

We are often forced to make difficult choices along our career path because our choices are influenced by many forces.  The birth of a child, going back to school for a master’s degree, taking time off to care for aging parents, moving to a new city because of a spouse’s job, a layoff as a result of an economic downturn, the sale of a company and the list goes on.  What we come to realize is that in hindsight some of the best career decisions we make don’t always seem like the best choices at the time.  We often have to take a step back to accelerate our path forward.  On the Besseggen ridge, we were required to backtrack several times because the path we chose became too steep, too snow covered or just un-navigable.  That forced us to backtrack in order to find another path forward.  Career choices can be quite similar.

Try plotting your own career path using the chart linked below.  I am confident that what you will find is that you too had to alter your chosen course on more than one occasion to move forward.  The earlier in your career that you come to realize that your career path and trajectory will not follow a straight line, the faster you will climb and the more you will come to learn and savor each and every experience you encounter.

Career Transition Template

By clicking on the chart above you can download a PDF version that can be printed