Why You Should Think of Your Career as a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder
Sometimes not planning is the best planning.
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What are some tips for effectively managing your career? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Don't plan your career. As I told Jean Chatzky in a HerMoney podcast airing this week, the world is more fast-changing and unpredictable than ever. Think of your career as a jungle gym rather than a ladder. If you think of your career as a ladder, you have one rung to look up to, and that may not be a stable rung. You need to think broadly about opportunity, have sharp peripheral vision, and possibly swing to opportunities that are on the left or on the right. Chapter 4 of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In is "It's a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder." Sheryl generously credits me for being the first to talk publicly about this career strategy.
Those opportunities may be a rung down. That's OK! A lot of women who have been on are on Fortune's Most Powerful Women lists over the years have done this because we still live in a world where a woman's resume has to be a little bit broader and deeper than a man's resume for her to get that CEO job. In fact, horizontal career swings have been key to getting some of these women into CEO positions. Mary Barra ran business units and HR at General Motors before she became CEO. While women have traditionally been pigeonholed in HR, the top HR job equipped and legitimized Mary as a corporate culture transformer at GM.
In the HerMoney podcast, Jean asked me "Without trying to plan it out, is there a path that you can somewhat chart?" Here's how I replied: "I don't think there is a path you can chart. I think flexibility and adaptability are the most important qualities to have, and you need to be super-attuned to opportunity. Take the meeting. Pay attention to the job at hand, but you don't keep your nose in the ground. There is so much opportunity today to connect with people. A career is like a map with many roads. You need to be ready to take road a or b or c--and say to yourself: 'I'm not sure which road I'm going to take next year, but I need to be open to all of them.'" I learned that when I started SellersEaston Media with Nina Easton. It was the smartest career move of my life.
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