So many times, that question has been called out by children who are eager to reach whatever place was promised!

Often at the very beginning of a career journey we focus on an exact destination – as if we expect to follow a linear path to that single spot on our professional radar. And then life happens. We discover there are unexpected twists in the journey. Destinations sometimes multiply and at other times disappear.

If we learned nothing else from the last two years when agility and mastery of whatever technology replaced our face-to-face interactions emerged as top skillsets, we learned that the future is impossible to predict with certainty. As Bob Johansen so wisely said in his book, The New Leadership Literacies, “The future will reward clarity – but punish certainty.”

Careers and the development that is a fundamental part of experiencing a truly rewarding career journey are impossible to plan with the specificity we may have expected or even hoped for. Traps that can derail a careful plan range from preparing for a role only to find it no longer exists, to ignoring emerging or fading skillsets.

So, what can we do? Here are my suggestions based on what has turned out for me to be a meaningful, decades-long career experience.

First, remain curious. Curiosity has been identified as a competency that has multiple positives! For one thing, it’s free! You were born with it. All you need to do is tap into it. Even if it’s been quiet for a while, it’s still there. Ask what’s coming in your industry or profession. Keep a lens on what’s next. Curiosity also supports the drive to be a lifelong learner. And, yes, lifelong learning is now more than a need – it’s a requirement. Curiosity can ignite and fuel the learning process.  

Second, know what you need. Knowing what you need goes beyond understanding the financial support you need from your work. That part is core of course. Also knowing what you need from your work in terms of what engages you, interests you and energizes you will help you make informed choices – and can keep you from stepping into a well-paid, but mismatched job.

Third, see options everywhere. Detecting career options can be like discovering images in one of those Magic Eye books we played with as kids. The closer you look, the more objects, or in this case, options, show up! When a twist presents itself, tease out the opportunities that may be hidden. A colleague who was faced with suddenly teaching middle schoolers virtually is now contracting as a producer of virtual training programs. When a new retailer took over a neighbor’s small business customer base, he turned to his years of marketing to offer consulting support to others interested in the space.

And, last, leverage what you’ve learned. Human beings are learning animals. Even when we are not conscious of it, we are picking up knowledge. Think about that very first job you were paid to do. Whether it was babysitting or caddying on a golf course or clearing tables and making hamburgers, you were collecting skills and building an understanding of what you have to offer. Keep your skills and abilities inventory up to date. 

Careers are nothing more – and nothing less – than a series of experiences. Be curious about what’s next. Be clear about what you need. Be open to options. And be aware of what you bring. As Johansen tells us, the future doesn’t provide a place for certainty; but, if we arm ourselves well, we can have a rewarding and meaningful career journey.