Our careers will look more like mosaics and less like climbing the ladder.
Our deep connection to our occupational identity challenges our ability to navigate change, but we can rewrite our narratives for a richer purpose.
~Heather McGowen and Chris Shipley, The Adaptation Advantage
Last week I shared with you several truths of the revolution that define the Future of Work. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around what this truly means for our careers and how it impacts the traditional approach of climbing the ladder to success.
Now if you are not a student of art (like me), you might be wondering what a mosaic even is and how you create one. I did my research when I first hear this concept two years ago. A mosaic is a pattern or image made of small pieces of colored stone, glass, or ceramic. Mosaics have been created as early as Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BC. A quick google search reveals some of the more famous mosaics, or you can check them out here.
If a mosaic is a pattern or image made of small pieces, then a career mosaic is a pattern made of small experiences. At it’s completion, that pattern represents you and all you have given to the world through your talent and dedication.
Why a mosaic over the ladder?
First and foremost, as you climb the ladder there are fewer and fewer opportunities. By definition that means that not everybody reaches the top. There are a whole lot of people who make that world go around who are not a CEO or even an Executive. They may choose not to pursue that career path. They may be involuntarily forced off the ladder. A lot can happen while climbing that ladder.
I’m going to pause right here and point out the seemingly obvious. Climbing the corporate ladder equals a higher income. Yes, that typically is true (although depending on the size of company, job title doesn’t always equal more income). I could spend a whole day arguing that your income is only part of an equation of what you want in life. Your values and certain life situations dictate what you need and want your income to be. So I only see income as one factor to consider when it comes to your career. There are a lot of ways to achieve certain incomes. Climbing the ladder and getting promotions is one way to achieve that income.
By the way, climbing the corporate ladder is not a bad thing. If that is what you choose to do (or have done) then that is great! I’ve been on that ladder twice now and enjoyed climbing every rung.
The reality, though, is that not everyone makes it to the top. There are a lot of reasons why they don’t. And some people make it to the top (or at least pretty high) and move on to something else. I fall into that category too. You never know where life is going to lead you. And climbing the ladder is not the only path to success and happiness.
To truly thrive, we need to untangle the identity trap that our personal identity is the same as our occupational identity. I encourage you to see that your personal identity is the mosaic that you create. You can, and do, learn new things. You adapt to situation. You go after new goals, new skills, new jobs. Seasons of life come and go. And your personal identity is the combination of all those experiences. It is the mosaic that represents your life.
What does a career mosaic look like?
Let’s start with a blank pattern. You can begin to fill it in with your past. What experiences built your foundation? What experiences helped you to rise or fall? When did you make a lateral move or start at a new company? If you stayed at home to care for children or adult family members, where would you place that on your mosaic?
I believe 2 things really create a career mosaic: work and community involvement. This encompasses the jobs you have had – both paid and unpaid. Volunteering as a board member, coach, or religious education teacher requires the same skills, talent, and intentional development as working. Ask any person who has ever run a little league, chaired the Parent-Teacher Association, or coordinated the live streams for church service, and they will tell you all about the communication, project management, and technological skills they learned through those experiences.
As you continue to add your small pieces, your pattern grows and the image begins to change. Only you get to create it. It is a piece of art that is unique to you.
And unlike the corporate ladder, anyone can create a career mosaic. It is in these beautiful designs that real, every day impact occurs.
As the world continues to change rapidly…
As social movements progress…
As politics rage on…
As technological advances accelerate…
Just remember that you are not one particular job title. You are a beautiful piece of art, still being designed and created. And the artist is the one and only you.
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