The Benefits of Taking a Nonlinear Career Path

Career Development

The Benefits of Taking a Nonlinear Career Path | Wit & Delight
Aron Yigin on Unsplash

When I was in third grade, I wrote a book about my life. It goes a little like this: I live in my home with my family until I turn thirty-five and then I become a jockey and somewhere down the line, a veterinarian (because why not, age is a concept). Closely following this, I get a house that is the perfect shape of a box with two windows. In this box home, I live alone because I have no concept of children or a significant other. The end.

In reality’s bliss, when I graduated high school and shipped off to college at nineteen, I didn’t experience a mysterious sixteen additional years living with my parents. And, believe it or not, I didn’t become a jockey or a veterinarian. I sat in an administrator’s office and was asked, like a server humoring me about the soup du jour, what I wanted to do with my life.

I think, even then, I wanted to write. I loved people and I loved psychology. However, with the Internet in full bloom, I ruled out journalism because I was silly enough to think newspapers and magazines were going away. And my college didn’t offer many behavioral health classes. So, I picked advertising. All my friends were doing it and working in an office with open floor plans and beer and big, gallant kitchens seemed sexy and very modern-day Peggy Olson. 

My career path didn’t begin in a linear manner. So, why should it stay that way?

I googled “choosing a nonlinear career path” and it gave me a list of steps to take if you don’t know which career path to choose. Look through various job descriptions to make sure it matches your skills. Take an online career aptitude test. Make a list of your skills and strengths. Find a job that mirrors those.

Blech. I hate every single one of these. College prepares you for a career once you chose one, not the other way around. And I’ve never taken the time to genuinely answer any of these questions. If I did, I’d truly always go back to being a jockey. And I’m too big-boned and big-boobed to get into that industry. So, instead, college pushed me into a boastful mindset that I should be obsessed and dedicated to the career I chose. Advertising was the wallpaper of my life. I know now that my little third-grade book was a preface to my future. I placed myself perfectly in that little box house, refusing to step out for anything else.

College pushed me into a boastful mindset that I should be obsessed and dedicated to the career I chose. Advertising was the wallpaper of my life. . . . I placed myself perfectly in that little box house, refusing to step out for anything else.

After four years of Advertising & PR clubs, National Advertising Competitions, networking events downtown, and learning too much about traditional advertising, I was thrust into the career I chose like a bat outta hell. I made $32,000/year and cried every day at my job because I didn’t know how to write an email or reach out to bloggers and give them a free pizza party. I was impeccably miserable and felt completely out of line for it. In tears, I quit in my manager’s dark office and moved into my parent’s basement only ten months after graduating college.

Two months later, I took a job as a flight attendant. And that was my first, and not last, nonlinear career path detour.

I don’t want to write about being a flight attendant though. I want to write about my latest career change and how it’s made me a better, stronger, more well-rounded human.

To preface, I’ve spent almost ten years of my profession as a writer and marketer. I’ve worked on small marketing teams planning social media content, blog editorial calendars, testing out influencer campaigns, scribbling radio copy, flushing out strategy, working events, and writing in magazines. I really, truly loved every minute of it and, after a lot of dedication, was finally starting to feel like a passionate expert, one that could answer questions and feel confident in meetings.

When the pandemic struck, my day job was turned upside down, like a lot of ours were, and I was forced to reevaluate. And by reevaulate, I mean go on unemployment for six months…let’s be real here.

So, when I received an opportunity to interview for a job on a Digital Insights and Strategy team for a Fortune 500 company, I was instantly nervous. Luckily, I fell in love with the team, and they welcomed me with open arms. They expressed their eagerness to hire someone who valued empathy and emotions; who believed stories are data with a soul. So what if I was a word gal? Who cared if I had never functioned properly on Adobe Analytics? I could DO THIS. Data needed me!!

Okay, initially? WRONG. I couldn’t do this. Everything in my mind and body was telling me that I was not cut out for VLOOKUP and reach versus visibility and causation versus correlation. I was so violently uncomfortable the first four months, I wanted to apologize for my faults every moment I could. Me, opening up Teams every day: “Hi, I’m sorry I don’t know this but could you tell me how to set up a workspace on Adobe—haha I’m so foolish, I don’t even know if I’m asking the right question!”

Learning was—and has been—so humbling. My wonderful boss and mentor kept pushing me in all the right directions. “We all have superpowers and you are here for a reason,” she’d say in our one-on-ones when my face soured or I swam slower through a sentence. I’ve never met a colleague so genuine and supportive. “And honestly, Brittany?” she’d add here and there. “You are not your job. You are you.”

She’s right. And I kept trying. I am trying. Now, seven months deep into Adobe and reporting and data visualization, I am starting to feel better. Not comfortable! But, better. I know more than I ever thought I’d know about telling the story behind data. And I can already tell it’s enhanced my resume and career in so many striking ways. 

Maybe these leaps were grand gestures to remind me I was getting too comfortable. Because being uncomfortable is part of the growth process.

I have taken so many pivots in my work—ones that didn’t make any sense at the time, but that certainly changed my life. Maybe these leaps were grand gestures to remind me I was getting too comfortable. Because being uncomfortable is part of the growth process.

On occasion, being naive is born in a petri dish of complacency. And we need to dump that shit all over the place to grow elsewhere. Buried in each pivot’s turmoil are deep reminders that failing or quitting almost always leads to something better. That’s where the benefits of trying something new come in. According to a really delightful Huffington Post article about trying new things, we can garner a lot of benefits from being uncomfortable. We get to know ourselves better, stimulate creativity, grow our own “body of work,” and overcome uncovered fears we never knew we had.

If there is anything I’ve learned about choosing a career path I didn’t expect or thought I couldn’t do, here is my cheesiest advice:

Success is about the journey, not the destination.

BY Brittany Chaffee - April 11, 2021

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