When someone in the future describes a woman’s career as a “labyrinth,” it will be a compliment. They’ll admire how she’s created opportunity out of adversity, followed a flexible plan that allowed her to seize unexpected openings, and took breaks to continue her education or decide on a new career entirely.
More women are finding ways to pursue “boundaryless” career paths, in which their home and work lives can overlap and personal values guide their work choices. With lifelong, single-company careers a thing of the past and an unpredictable, volatile future promising only constant change, this model will benefit workers of both sexes in the coming years.
Fifty-eight percent of women interviewed for Apollo Research Institute’s forthcoming book Women Lead say they’ve followed a “nonlinear” career path. Stopping for family-related reasons doesn’t account for all of the twists and turns; 90% of women managers and executives who reported leaving their job did so to change employers. Other zigzags women make include taking on new roles within their current firm, and switching industries to broaden their skill base or find a better match for their talents. Still others launch their own businesses—in fact, women-owned firms are responsible for over 23 million jobs with a $3 trillion annual economic impact.
To begin embracing the unexpected in your career, tap the power of planned happenstance. Invite opportunity by remaining optimistic about the potential that changes at work or in life can bring. Women Lead notes that women who adopt this view tend to earn more, close more deals, get promoted more often, and—most important—report higher career satisfaction.
Encourage planned happenstance by taking more risks outside your comfort zone, following your values, and making room for life to happen within your career plan. Also stay visible within your company or industry. Ninety-nine percent of women vice presidents or higher at Fortune 1000 companies said taking high-profile projects was key to their success, according to research cited in Women Lead; 91% said having a mentor was a critical factor; and 84% credited their network. Ongoing education and workplace training can also broaden opportunities.
This labyrinth vs. ladder approach isn’t just for women. Women Lead notes that men are more likely to follow traditional single-path careers, stay in the same industry, and keep their home lives from influencing their career planning. By adopting a more flexible outlook in the workplace, men can better prepare themselves to switch jobs and learn new skills as rising longevity rates extend their working lives to 50 years or more.
So don’t worry if your own work journey involves many stops, starts, and lateral moves. You might find the winding path you followed leads you straight to the career of your dreams.