What is so new about the “new” way to manage careers?

So much has been written about the “new” way to manage your career. There are a lot of references like "you can’t expect to work for the same company your entire career" or "you won't a have a linear career path" or "you need to constantly be networking" or "you now have to keep learning and refreshing your skills". But I don’t think this way of thinking is so “new” and people shouldn’t be afraid of it. The way that is described as “new” is really the way many people have been managing their careers for the last 20 years. Your career has been, and always will be, what you make it.

A few years ago, in a session with a career coach I was telling him that I had always wanted to be a senior executive or in the C-Suite. He responded, “No, you didn’t. Because if you had really wanted that you would have made it happen.” At first, I was insulted (I mean, who did he think he was?) and then a little mad (he didn’t know me and know how hard I had worked already). Then I thought…maybe he was more spot on than I cared to admit. I hadn’t jumped from company to company in pursuit of a title, I had stayed at the same company and pursued opportunities that were often lateral moves. But I had been successful in my career and I have enjoyed my career to date. I have pursued opportunities that seemed interesting. I even had a role where I defined what the job would be, sold my manager on the fact that they needed it and then I proceeded to be build a team to do just that. I challenged myself to learn new things while staying grounded in my core competencies. I had pursued positions and a field that I found interesting even though it hadn’t always been a straight path up the career ladder.

I have worked in professions, such as Online Advertising, that hadn’t even been invented when I graduated from college. Now I am again in a field that didn’t really exist when I pursued my first job – I am in podcasting.

Career Paths

So, all this talk about “new” ways to work or manage your career path just doesn’t make sense to me.  Most people I know who are in their mid-career have similar stories to mine. Ask people what they majored in at college and you might be surprised. I know people who were math majors who are now in diversity and inclusion teams; chemical engineers who are programmers, anthropology majors who are doing UX design. None of these paths were linear up a career ladder.  I don’t doubt that there are a few professions that have been, and will likely continue to be, more linear – Physicians will come from med schools, Lawyers will come from law schools. These people might still jump paths into new areas such as non-profits or education. But for the “information worker” (do we still use that term?!?) this way of working, finding new work and finding an enjoyable career path has been what you make of it – you have to know what you are good at, know how to apply that to new challenges and opportunities, then be willing to go after a non-linear path or at least say “yes” when the opportunity comes.

Can we please stop talking about the “new” way to manage careers? If you have been active in your career management in the past 1-30 years this is the way you have already been working.  So, if you are thinking about a career transition or wanting to change jobs – don't stress about the "new" way. Don’t be scared or intimidated. Just go for it.