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How to Thrive in the Unpredictable Journey of Your Career

Car driving down a foggy, dimly lit roadPhoto by chmyphotography on Unsplash

Our career, like life, is unpredictable. Persevere, be flexible, always be visible, and show up for others and great things will happen.

I recently heard the story of Tom Lee, an ex-British Military Intelligence Officer who moved to Silicon Valley, looking to jump-start his career. 

When he arrived in Northern California, no one would hire him. Not only that, but no one would even respond to his resume and job applications. Crickets. 

A lot of the advice he received was to just start his own company, which he did. He learned a lot by doing that, but it wasn’t what he really wanted to do. 

He never stopped networking and building professional relationships and remained patient and persistent. 

His big break came when he met a guy named Greg Camplejohn who, at the time, was starting a company called FlipTop. Greg gave Tom a chance and hired him as a Product Manager. 

Fast forward nearly three years later, and FlipTop would be acquired by LinkedIn, one of the companies Tom applied to early on and didn’t even get the courtesy of a response back.

Now, he’s a Group Product Manager, working on very strategic projects - at LinkedIn. 

The Long and Winding Road

There’s no doubt that our careers have been a long and winding road for many of us. If we sat back and thought about when we graduated from college and if we ever thought we would be doing what we’re doing now and the path it took to get here, we might be astounded. 

Often, we’re forced down a path we didn’t intend to choose and then feel stuck and tortured by that decision. 

The truth is, only we can make the decisions we make. But people are notorious for making irrational decisions. 

Most of the time, fear creeps in, and we begin creating an elaborate story of worst-case scenarios - things that have little to nill probability of ever happening. 

Seek a Dimly Lit Road

You’re goal-oriented and always feel like you need a purpose or something to work towards - whether that’s a promotion, a new role, or a career change. 

The problem is, we can’t predict the future. Not you. Not me. Not Bill Gates. No one can. 

So stop trying.

Even if you feel that you’re on a concrete, clearly defined career path, there will always be something unexpected that knocks you off course. 

Nothing is guaranteed. 

Opportunity is going to come from unlikely places. It’s essential to turn over those rocks, explore the possibilities. It may not be the path you had expected, but is it a path you would enjoy? 

Could it be a great learning opportunity? Would you be able to work around interesting and smart people?

Sometimes we’re better off driving down the unlit, country road with only one headlight. It forces us to be slow, deliberate, and focus only on what’s right in front of us at the time. 

Be Deliberate and Show Up- Every Day

If you’re in a role with a company but would like to change or pivot, focus on that role and show up and be the best you can be. There’s no reason not to.

Then, carve out the time to focus on things that will help you advance your career, like writing, learning new skills, reading, or enrolling in workshops and classes. Something that will help you get one step closer to the path you are seeking. 

But, most importantly, show up in places like LinkedIn, Twitter, and, and live conferences- when we’re able to attend them again. 

As a result of my own experience, I’m a firm believer that when you’re visible, great things happen. 

Be generous with what you know. Lift other people up. Ask questions and be curious. And engage and have conversations with a variety of people in different roles and industries. 

Don’t force it. Just be patient, persistent, and keep showing up every day. Trust the process. Focus only on the day in front of you. 

Network - With People You Already Know

Good things will happen when you surround yourself with great, generous people, and you also show up for them. 

Get out there and network- especially with the people you already know. Haven’t talked with a former colleague in awhile? Reach out and ask them what they’re up to. 

Try this: reach out to five people you already know but haven’t talked to in a while each day for five straight days. Focus on them and what they’re up to. You might be surprised at what happens. 

There are little things you can do each day to build momentum and help you move in the right direction. The problem is, something will come along and knock you off course- no matter how hard you try to stay the course.

Be agile and adaptable. View the change of course as an unexpected opportunity to grow and learn. Think about how you could turn it into something positive and in your favor.

The more often you're 'visible' and helping others, the better your odds at getting what you want.