Owning your “atypical” career pathFeatured

If I’ve learned anything throughout my 10+ years navigating what some might consider an “atypical” or “nontraditional” career path, it’s that a wavy line that follows your passions is far more likely to lead to fulfilling work than a straight line that feels prescribed or at all disconnected from your values.

Every role I’ve ever held - from entry-level nonprofit professional, to mid-level business consultant, to senior-level strategic advisor, to startup founding team member - has taught me important lessons about what I value in the workplace. Whether identifying aspects of culture, environment, community, workflow, etc. that enable me to thrive or coming to terms with what sorts of things I don’t care for, every experience has helped me strengthen my understanding of what matters most to me, and what allows me to show up as my best self in my work.

Despite being told at several points during my career (including when I chose to take a two-year hiatus from the professional world to be a full-time mom for my newborn son) that my background “didn’t seem to follow a clear path” or “didn’t always make sense” by recruiters and hiring managers in a variety of fields, my belief in the thread that carried me through all the very successful, high-impact roles that I’d held only got stronger over time.

The best thing I learned to do for myself in navigating potential pivot points in my career was to be my own best advocate, and to double down on building a crystal clear narrative around the core values, traits, and experiences that drove me through my career and that I believed made me an invaluable (and unique!) asset to whatever company I was speaking with at the time. Ultimately it was this conviction of mine that allowed me to continue to successfully advance through different fields in my career, while also finding peace in knowing that anywhere that turned me down as a candidate probably wasn’t the right fit for me anyway.

Over time, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with the fact that I’ll never be one of those people who’s a “lifelong [INSERT ROLE/FUNCTION HERE].” And while that might make changing jobs a bit more of an uphill battle for me at times, that’s okay… because that’s what’s right for me. The more I embrace who I am, the diverse and highly transferable skills and experiences I bring to the table, and the values that serve as my true north in defining the type of environment in which I’m most likely to thrive, the better the odds that I’ll land myself in a beautiful, exciting, and fulfilling new role. And whether it’s a field or a role that’s new or familiar to me, so long as those core pillars of what matter most to me hold strong, I can trust that the risk will be worth the reward.

So while leaning on your people can be a super important way to expand your network and seek feedback or even guidance throughout your professional journey, remember that external inputs are just that: inputs. At the end of the day, managers, mentors, and even societal norms are not responsible for defining and committing to what’s right for you: YOU are. “Different” isn’t wrong; “atypical” isn’t bad; “nontraditional” doesn’t mean “less than”. As long as you know who you are, what matters to you, and what fills your cup, you should absolutely trust your intuition to take you to and through whatever exciting new journey awaits!

No matter where you are in your own career progression, it’s super important to create space for yourself to pause, reflect, and process what’s most important to you before defining your next step forward.

Want to hear more about my story? Check out this blog post or listen to this podcast episode in which I dive deep into how my first community role at a tech startup has allowed me to transition from being an “a” to being a “the”.

Lovely post! Thank you for normalizing the "atypical" path – atypical to what?? Not the person who chooses it :)
@raekwilliams I needed to hear this today. Thank you so much.
I'd be really curious to hear what your narrative is!
As someone who’s had an atypical career path, this feels validating and I feel seen
As another person with an eclectic career path, I appreciate your story and staying true to your vision of what's right for you.
Thank you so much for this post, I feel validated. Thank you.
Thank you for this!
I definitely needed to hear this today thank you