Are you trying to drive your career like it's a straightforward path? Read on!

It’s time to pull over: Navigating the roads of your career path

Shauna Cole works with Enterprise Saint John. She’s a Certified HR Professional (CHRP), holding an MBA and BA. A native Saint Johner, Shauna is passionate about working with our community.


A GPS approach to career planning, where we establish a destination early in our careers, becomes a problem as we’re forced to reset and adjust priorities based on organizational requirements. Our tendency is to look at our career paths as a linear process with clear roadways to get us to some sort of end destination. The way most of us look at this journey is likely pretty seriously flawed, given the many bumps, detours and giant pot holes we can face along the way.

We need to be ready for changes to our long-term plans as they happen throughout our careers. We also need to start thinking of career growth as a more organic process, allowing ourselves to deviate from an established plan and reset goals as we go.

Three big problems within our current approach to career planning are:

Problem #1: The advice we get from more senior people:

As we look to our managers, mentors and business leaders the messaging often remains consistent; reassurance that we can choose our own direction. Throughout our careers, we’re told we have control and accountability for our own progression and movement.

This advice sets a false expectation for early professionals beginning their careers. It’s like starting out on a road trip with the wrong address programmed into the GPS. By the time we get to this end destination, the address might no longer exist. Our leaders know this.

The messages from managers, mentors and business leaders need to be reshaped to reflect today’s pace of change, the importance of fluidity in goal setting and to acknowledge how others’ perceptions of us can ultimately redirect our career path.

Problem #2: We’re setting ourselves up to fail by looking at our career as a linear path:

Imagine for a moment that you’re driving along in your car, relying on your GPS to get you to your selected destination (ahem – CEO or Manager of Something Something). Your reliance on the GPS, its preprogrammed routes and solutions for optimizing your arrival time might actually impact how, and if you, end up at the end up this desired destination at all. Seriously- how often do construction zones or new roads force the GPS to recalculate your position and reset the route?

In our careers, we’re making the dangerous assumption that our end destination will be there when we are scheduled to arrive. In the midst of reorganization and an ever changing external environment, this assumption isn’t safe.

Problem #3 We don’t recognize bumps and detours as big opportunities:

But they are!

In my experience, these diversions can be the result of the opinions and perceptions of our organization’s decision makers. So, the challenge becomes figuring out a productive way to manage this network of opinions that surrounds you. This network has been built by those cumulative perceptions that the decision makers hold of who you are, your performance and your capabilities.

Like the data from our GPS, once these opinions are ‘out there’, they’re ‘out there’. Unfortunately, this means there’s a lot of room for all different kinds of biases to emerge and for the data to be interpreted differently. So, depending on the size, strength and flexibility of the network of opinions surrounding you, it can be pretty hard to change what others think.

I think there are times and ways we can manage how others see us, I also believe there are times when managing the perceptions of decision makers might actually be out of our control. Sometimes those perceptions might challenge your values and belief in your leaders and organization. All we can do is try to understand what is forming those perceptions and course correct.

On the other hand, maybe it’s time to stop the car, pull over and throw the GPS out the window.