How to Find Your Career Path

Millennial careers won't be like those of their parents or grandparents. Gone is the "work 30 years at one company, retire with a pension." That dream is toast, and if that's what you're wishing for, you'll need to re-think your strategy.

What's more, the "career ladder" is dead. We've heard this over and over again in career workshops and online. But where does that leave millennials, who are looking for the same kind of career advancement and predictability their parents enjoyed?

Your Career Is a Lattice

Instead of a ladder, think of a lattice. It's much more likely that you'll make lateral moves than upward ones. But those lateral moves will make that upward one much easier in the long run. If you've had experience across the business, you'll be much more likely to understand all of the pieces and be a more effective leader, rather than staying put in your one line of work.

That can be scary, but it's actually a good thing. It opens up your possibilities beyond your immediate position into whatever you dream. 

Which leads us to the next, much scarier question: What are you dreaming about? How can you find your path?

Explore Your Options...And Write Them Down

If you feel stuck in your current role and you're not sure what to do, it can be easier just to glide along and hope something will happen—you'll get promoted, the company will get bought—something to make the idea of leaving psychologically easier. 

Let's not think about leaving your current role just yet. First, you have to commit. Decide what it is you really want to do. What lights your fire?

Maybe you already know the answer to that question. You've always wanted to be a lawyer or an engineer or a rocket scientist. But for most of us, it's a lot less easy to know the path. So the first step is brainstorming. What do you love?

You can do this in two different ways, depending on how your mind is organized:

1) Write down a list of all the jobs or career paths that have ever interested you. Yes, that includes "Instagram influencer" or "Youtube star" or whatever else you're dreaming about. Don't let any of the voices in your head tell you you can't, at least not at this point in the process.

2) Get out your sticky notes. On each sticky note, write down something you've loved. That might be "throwing a dinner party for lots of friends," "digging into spreadsheets," or "leading a big meeting." It doesn't have to be work-related. It can be learning experiences, best classes, soft skills, or hard skills. Write down everything, one per sticky note. 

I'm more visual, so the second one works for me.

Find Connections Between Them

Now, find the connections. Maybe you have several themes going on that you'll need to explore more. Either way, find your 3-5 themes and consolidate your list into those buckets.

Don't edit here, either. Realize that some of your dreams might be hard to reach, and that's ok. Some of them might require giving up your cushy salary, or predictable paycheck, or current lifestyle. That's ok too.

Make a Plan...And Take the Leap

So, what have you learned about yourself? You've still probably got options and you'll need to make a decision at some point. If you're a recent graduate, these are great starting points for internships. And if you're further along in your career, think about volunteering to try and pick up these skills or see if you like them better. Sign up for a class or course to fill in some of the gaps and learn whether it's a dream or something you'd like to do.

Related: Change the World, One Day at a Time

You won't know for sure until you start trying. Don't be afraid to chase your dreams—or at least acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, it's time for something new.