Navigating a Non-Linear Career Trajectory - the final frontier?

Navigating a Non-Linear Career Trajectory - the final frontier?

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March 23rd, 2023

As a lifelong Trekkie, I was always amazed by the content provided through mainstream media such as television. It was always progressive and groundbreaking in technological aspects but also in social and, let's say, human topics.Ā 

I started with a yearly rewatching of old shows in the last couple of months. It is interesting how we can always find something new and create an excellent metaphor for something we face daily. Outstanding characterizations, superb storytelling, and average or below average acting(let's be honest) provide me with experiences like no other tv show has done before or after.Ā 

My personal favorite was always Star Trek: Deep Space Nine show. It was groundbreaking when it came out. There were no endlessly long journeys, final frontiers, or anything about mobility. The playground was a space station with a complex political situation and diverse species that needed to cohabitate in a relatively small space. It is not so different from today's lives, especially in a business environment.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine started with an excellent episode about aliens living in the only stable wormhole in the known universe, worshiped by habitants from a local planet called Bajor. Also, we have the opportunity to meet a young commander Sisko who will be recognized as a long-awaited emissary for Bajorans, their link with the prophets inside the wormhole.Ā 

The first episode was great, but there is one specific thing that was always interesting to me, and it is related to time. Prophets are higher entities, advanced civilizations not easily understandable to us, but they needed clarification with our linear perception of time. That specific dialogue makes me think about many things in our life that are defined by that perception. How does that contain us, help us or slow us down in our evolving and growing?Ā 

Non-linear Career Trajectory

A professional career is important to me, and in the last few years, I have tried to explain career topics in the ever-changing world, first of all to myself, then to all my colleagues. So far, we know that the concept of a career ladder can not explain our career progress. The world changed and became more complex. Also, we changed a lot! When we look at our career progression through the lens of linear time, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that there is a set path we must follow to achieve success. We may become fixated on achieving certain milestones by certain ages or feel pressure to move up the career ladder in a linear, upward trajectory. But the reality is that careers today are much more fluid and non-linear than ever before.Ā 

Just as the prophets exist outside of linear time, we, too, may learn to think beyond the constraints of linear time when it comes to our careers. Instead of thinking about where we should be at a certain age or stage in our careers, we should focus on developing new skills, taking on new challenges, and embracing change. Brave and optimistic things to say, I know. This is not to say that we should abandon all structure and planning regarding our careers. Having goals and a sense of direction is important. But we should be open to new opportunities and willing to take risks, explore ourselves, and create new opportunities. Instead of ladders, maybe we should think more about the dots we need to connect to create a shape colored with our values.Ā 

But how to achieve that? How to fill out the space in between dots? How to connect them with suitable lines? The first few things that come to my mind are transferable skills, networking, and a strong personal brand.Ā 

Skills to beam upĀ 

In a traditional, linear career path, we may develop skills specific to our industry or job role. These skills may be less valuable if we switch careers or take a different path. However, in a non-linear career path, transferable skills can be valuable, as they can be applied to various job roles and industries. For example, communication, problem solving, and leadership skills are transferable skills that can be valuable in various job roles and industries. These skills can help individuals adapt to new situations, collaborate effectively with colleagues, and manage complex projects and tasks.

In addition to transferable skills, individuals in non-linear career paths may also need to develop a strong self-awareness and the ability to learn quickly and adapt to new situations. This can include developing a growth mindset, seeking new learning opportunities, and being open to feedback and constructive criticism.

Quark's bar PowerĀ 

Another thing that comes to my mind is networking. "Instead of better glasses, your network gives you better eyes." was a great observation by American sociologist Ronald Stuart Burt. By its nature, networking is not a linear construct; it is more like exploring a city with a map and a compass. The map represents our knowledge and skills, while the compass represents our sense of direction and purpose. As we explore the city, we may encounter new challenges and obstacles that require us to navigate unfamiliar terrain or seek new resources and support.

Networking is a valuable tool for navigating a non-linear career path because it can provide us access to information, resources, and opportunities that we might not have access to otherwise. Building a strong professional network involves cultivating relationships with colleagues, mentors, and other professionals in your industry or field and staying connected with individuals we have previously worked with.

Siskoā€™s Kobayashi Maru

I mentioned outstanding characterizations at the beginning of this homage to Star Trek. From my perspective, this aspect is constructed through cultivating a strong personal brand for every character. Of course, not in a cheesy one-dimensional way, but through self-acceptance, the ability to communicate our values and beliefs to others, and openness to change, visible in every character. This realization made me think about how personal branding is important in our career development and how to create something unique and special when we should jump from one dot to another.Ā 

Cultivating a strong personal brand is a process that involves understanding how others perceive us, how we communicate our unique value proposition and building a reputation for excellence in our field.Ā 

From a psychological perspective, several key factors can influence the effectiveness of our branding efforts. The most important one is self-concept clarity, which refers to our understanding of who we are and what we stand for. In 2011 scientists conducted research on self-concept clarity and self esteem. They have shown that individuals with high self-concept clarity are more likely to set clear goals, make more informed decisions, and experience greater life satisfaction than those with low self-concept clarity. In personal branding, self-concept clarity can help us develop a clear and compelling message about who we are, what we offer, and how to effectively communicate this message to others.

Besides self-concept clarity, it is important to mention cognitive biases. Why don't we shake this positivism from the 24th century a little? We are only humans, after all. Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that our brains use to make quick decisions and judgments, mostly wrong, and we do it a lot! They can also lead us to make errors in judgment or overlook important information more often than we want to admit. We should understand our biases and work to counteract them to have an objective view of our strengths and abilities. How convenient, but my little daughter would ask me, how Kudo, how? Star Trek has all the answers. It is science fiction, after all.Ā 

One example of cognitive biases in Star Trek related to non-linear career paths can be seen in the character of Benjamin Sisko, our beloved emissary, and commander. Sisko was initially reluctant to take on the role of commander of the space station because he had a strong emotional attachment to his previous job and felt that he needed to be more suited to the more bureaucratic and political role of a station commander.

This reluctance can be seen as an example of the sunk cost fallacy, a cognitive bias in which individuals continue to invest time, resources, or effort into a particular path or project simply because they have already invested a significant amount of these resources. In Sisko's case, he was reluctant to take on a new role that he perceived as less exciting than his previous one, even though it might have been a better fit for his skills and interests. However, over time, Sisko came to appreciate the challenges and opportunities of his new role and excelled as a space station commander.Ā 

This is a fine example of cognitive flexibility, which involves adapting to new situations and challenges and adjusting one's goals and plans accordingly. By overcoming his initial reluctance and embracing his new role, Sisko was able to build a successful career in a non-linear career path and positively impact the lives of those around him.

And now, the conclusion!

I was always aware that I talk too much, but after this, I realized that I'm also writing too much. How should I create a conclusion and send a memorable message to those who endured? Not an easy task for the philosophical-driven Trekkie, but then I remembered what commander Data once said:Ā  "I have asked myself that many times, as I have struggled to be more human. Until I realized it is the struggle itself that is most important. We must strive to be more than we are, Lal. It does not matter that we will never reach our ultimate goal." Live long and prosper, my dear friends.Ā 

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