By Chris Fontanella
It sounds a bit mystical, but all steps taken on your career journey are interconnected. They are on a continuum: last steps on one road are connected to the first steps on another; ground already traversed leads to the new ground you are about to travel. In other words, every step, and misstep, has led you to the very place you find yourself in your career. The good news: “Wrong” moves never have to be final moves.
Missteps are Not Wrong Steps
Every person on a career journey has taken a step or two in the wrong direction. Some of us have even made U-Turns. But taking a so-called “wrong move” doesn’t preclude you from making another move that can get you back on track or where you need to be.
Not everyone knows from an early age what they are meant to be or do for a living. Most fumble about until they discover their calling, even scrapping one vocational pursuit for another. As you can see from these successful U-turners, if you find yourself on a changing path, you are in good company.
Dave Phinney, best known for his Orin Swift and The Prisoner wine labels, initially pursued a career as public defender, before deciding to be a vintner hell-bent on disrupting a profession known for its zealots of tradition. He messed with traditional wine-making formulas and produced an affordable wine by crafting a blend and slapping an artistic label on the bottle. He eventually sold The Prisoner to Constellation Brands for $285 million and Orin Swift to E & J Gallo for $300 million.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio served as a janitor during the day and a bouncer in the evening. He also trained to be a chemist and worked as a technician in a food service laboratory. But he didn’t feel fulfilled until he joined the Jesuits and was ordained as a Catholic priest. In 2013, Pope Francis was ratified as the head of the Catholic Church.
Tom Monaghan was sent to an orphanage at an early age. Later he attended seminary with plans to be a priest, but he was expelled. A stint in the marines followed, but ended with him discharged. Soon thereafter, he and his brother borrowed money to buy a pizza store called DomiNick’s. He changed the name a bit, tweaked the menu and decided to focus on pizza deliveries to college campuses. Domino’s now generates revenues over $4.5 billion.
The commonality amongst these individuals is that each headed in one direction and then, for whatever reasons, charted a new course. They serve as a reminder that a change in direction—making a “right” move after a “wrong” one—might be the best decision you ever make. What matters is your response to a self-perceived “wrong move.” As Stephen R. Covey says in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Our response to any mistake affects the quality of the next moment.” In other words, do not let your next career move be governed by moves already made. They are simply steps you needed to take to eventually get you where you are supposed to be. It’s possible you headed in the wrong direction to find the road you were actually meant to explore.
6 Questions to Determine if a New Direction is Needed
As I have noted, it is not uncommon to lose your sense of direction while on your career journey. The following questions can help you make sense of it all and recapture your sense of direction:
- Are you a prisoner of your own vocational biases? Said another way, are you open to new directions? If a new opportunity captures your attention—maybe even one unrelated to the career you’ve been pursuing—would you forsake what you’ve been doing to explore it? Do not be so wedded to your preconceived notions about your career that you fail to see the golden opportunity right before your eyes. I spent nine years studying for the ministry, but for personal reasons I decided no longer to pursue that vocation. When an amazing opportunity within the staffing industry presented itself, I explored it. Thirty years later, I have been finding jobs for people.
- Have your circumstances changed and are you willing to adapt? You will find over the course of your career that circumstances will change, whether they originate at home or at the office or in the world at large. Changes in one’s personal life, job relocations, company acquisitions, and more, are quite common. Events like these can cause careers to get off track unless, as the employee, you are willing to deviate from the original course. By failing to adapt, a dead end may be in your future.
- Does your job offer you a sense of purpose? Does what you do for a living excite you? Does it provide you with a reason for being? If not, something is amiss and you may need to consider alternative paths to identify your true calling
- Are you a fan of the company you work for? It is hard to work for an organization that has a philosophy you do not agree with. In other words, don’t accept a job with a plastic bottle manufacturer if you want to be the king of recycling.
- Do you feel valued by your employer? Some organizations fail to recognize the uniqueness of its employees. Employers who value their own individuality promote it in others. Find employment that allows you to be you. Any job that does not allow you to be you is not the job for you.
- Are changes taking place where you work? Maybe there’s been a managerial shake-up or there’s scuttlebutt about the company being acquired. Maybe the workforce has been slashed by 30%. These and other similar events give cause to consider how you may be impacted. Changes like these may create new possibilities for you within the company or provide reasons to explore new opportunities outside the company. It’s up to you to recognize this.
One Step Backward Leads to Two Steps Forward
Don’t overthink wrong career moves. They don’t doom you to a lousy life of employment. Instead of viewing a misstep as a final move, look at it as a last step on one road that has connected you to the first step on another. It’s never too late to take that first new step.
Chris Fontanella is the founder of Encore Professionals Group, a professional services firm specializing in the identification and placement of accounting and finance candidates in temporary and full-time positions. He previously served as Division Director for Robert Half International and Client Service Director for Resources Global Professionals. Prior to entering the staffing industry, Fontanella spent years studying theology and preparing for ministry, having received his bachelor of arts degree in New Testament Studies from Oral Roberts University, and his master of arts degree in Theological Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of Jump Start Your Career: Ten Tips to Get You Going, and Tune-Up Your Career: Tips & Cautions for Peak Performance in the Workplace. Learn more at chrisfontanella.com.