Reframing My Concept of Occupational Arc

I recently met with a Dean at Rice University’s Jones School of Business (where I am a student) to take advantage of his experience and position for professional mentorship.

Although our conversation spanned many topics, one point in particular resonated strongly with me.  I share it here in hopes that his message also inspires others to reconsider their perspective on a “correct” professional arc.

The dean suggested that it may be disadvantageous to set rigid (and likely arbitrary) long range goals and then adhere to that trajectory unrelentingly.  Although long range goals provide a sense of direction (and therefore comfort in predictability), they may also function as blinders which make us unable or unwilling to recognize opportunities that emerge around us.

One of the unfortunate aspects of my military service is that it conditioned me to expect this kind of linear growth in the private sector.  The career arc for military officers is uncompromisingly strait, rigid, and predictable.  Service members are also conditioned to pursue goals aggressively and succeed at all costs. I recognize that I have struggled to let go of this expectation and throw off the blinders so that I am open to recognizing chances to take an off ramp to a new career.  Yet, recognizing this blinder effect and becoming comfortable with this new career framework has not come easily.

Discussions with informed and experienced professionals, like the Rice Dean, are important opportunities to shock our world view and create conditions where we can begin to consider new ways to view the world around us.  But these conversations usually don’t happen by chance- they require us to have the courage to reach out to those who will challenge our way of thinking.

It’s another example that discomfort is a powerful catalyst to growth.