Choosing Your Path

At work, I’ve been leading a Lean-In Circle for a group of our interns this summer.  Given the short timeline for our group, I let this wonderful group of ambitious women decide where their time is best spent.  One of the sessions we went through recently was Choosing the Right Path for You.  Everyone was eager to ensure they are headed in the right direction and especially in today’s plethora of choices, to make sure they don’t end up with FOMO.  Most of our sessions are a dialogue, but I like to kick things off with a few of the lessons I’ve learned or best practices.  Here are some of my favorites.  Leave me a comment to let me know if any of these resonate with you or if I’ve left out something important!

  • Let go of expectations.  This includes expectations you perceive from your parents, society, and most importantly, yourself.  I spent years in various ruts, stressing about what I “should” be doing or what I was “supposed” to do.  By learning to shed the weight of these expectations, I’ve felt free to be myself and follow my authentic path.  It took me hitting rock bottom to finally shed the fear of defying expectations.  My hope is that by sharing my message, I can save you the time and heartache.
  • Look back.  When you look back at past experiences, you may have employment or service history that doesn’t immediately line up with where you think you want to go.  However, every experience can be broken down into pieces that you loved and others that you loathed.  If you can articulate what you liked about past projects, and even ask peers and colleagues when you’ve been at your best, you can become more clear on what type of role you want in the future, regardless of industry.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.  Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”  I think this is a great way to sum up the fact that nothing will change if you don’t.  If you aren’t sure what you want to do, then it’s critical to experiment and try new things.  Every experience is an opportunity to learn, even if you simply learn what you don’t want.
  • Know thyself.  Self-awareness is critical to finding your path.  This awareness can be achieved by taking assessments, journaling, and a healthy dose of introspection.  It’s also great to lean on your support system and get feedback on how and where you best show up. It’s only through intentionally getting to know yourself that you can move toward your most authentic path.
  • Set goals.  I’m sure everyone has heard of SMART goals, but I think it’s important to make life goals.  This can also be a sort of bucket list.  Think of the big dreams you want to achieve or experiences you want to have before you take your last breath.  These pie in the sky goals can go a long way to helping you determine which direction you need to head to make meaningful progress toward checking these experiences off your list.  Saying you want to be a senior software developer within 3 years is great for the near term, but I’ve found I often end up in roles I didn’t even know existed 2 years ago.  For me, it’s more important to articulate the qualities of a role or even where I wanted to be in the world in order to make them happen.  Having a healthy dose of flexibility in these goals goes a long way.
  • Informational interviews.  Once you’ve done the work to figure out what you want and which direction you’re heading, informational interviews are invaluable for helping you figure out what a role really encompasses.  A job description only goes so far, but these interviews give you a chance in a low-pressure environment to learn about the team dynamic, management style, and even tasks a person loves or hates in the daily grind.  Offer to buy someone a cup of coffee or lunch, then let them do the talking (hint: with few exceptions, people like talking about themselves).  Just getting started?  You can find a list of starter questions I put together here.

When it comes to choosing the right path, the best lesson I’ve learned is to appreciate the winding path and be flexible.  I’m nowhere near where I thought I’d be 10 years ago, but I know I’m better for it.  I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the experiences I’ve gone through, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.