I don't know how it happened this fast this year, but we're heading into the holiday season again. Didn't this just happen? Thanksgiving is a mere week away. That usually means three things for me:
- I will over eat.
- I will then make a bold proclamation that I will not over eat next year - which everyone including me knows will be abandoned as soon as I'm sitting at next year's Thanksgiving table confronted with three variations of stuffing (to which I will respond by saying, "how about all of them?")
- I will then sit on the couch in a food coma.
The fringe benefits of the third thing is that I often do my best thinking during a food coma, mostly because I can't really move anyway. So I might as well contemplate something worthwhile.
For me every year, that "something worthwhile" is usually my family, my continuing work-life balance journey, and my career. Many of you spend the slower times around the holidays thinking about similar things - if not simply forced into it from consuming too much stuffing.
For whatever reason, it is also the time of year where a lot of my friends in the business world who are earlier in their careers reach out to talk with me about their next career moves. I'm happy and always humbled that people come to me for advice and that I'm at a place in my career where my perspectives are valued and relevant. Sometimes, it even feels like I'm talking to younger versions of myself. I get a lot of questions, but one question I hear all the time is:
"What should my next career move be?"
I usually talk about this question as the career choice between the path of least resistance (which most of us understand and like) and the path of most resistance (which most of us understand but don't like because of the potential risk it presents to our career success).
What does the path of most resistance look like? It could be a lot of things, from a new project totally outside of your current knowledge base, a bigger role you don't feel capable of doing, or even taking a role you know you probably won't like that much and don't really even want in the short term.
It is easy to convince ourselves to avoid all of those scenarios early in our careers, but here are two reasons to take that path of most resistance and why they will significantly help your career in the long run:
1. You'll be battle "tested"
You may worry that you are risking hurting your career by taking that hard road. Maybe you won't do as well in that road temporarily. You might even fail temporarily. I've done both. But here is what will likely also happen - you'll get through it and figure out a way to learn and adapt. And those capabilities are of huge value as you move into bigger roles at points further down your career road. As one of my supervisors along the way told me once:
"As you move up in any organization, gray needs to become your favorite color because things get continuously more gray as you get closer to the top. To be successful at these levels, you have to be comfortable navigating that."
The experience you'll get early in your career around navigating and mitigating challenges that come from the path of most resistance not only teach you how to manage the gray but give you the confidence to know you'll be able to get through challenges - no matter what those challenges are.
2. You'll be a much broader business leader
Whereas technical and functional specialization is important, as you move into higher levels of leadership (if that's what you want from your career), having a broad business understanding and the ability to think about the business at a systems level is critical.
Often the path of most resistance early in our careers are those exact opportunities to broaden ourselves and do so, quite honestly, when the career stakes are lower than being in a top leadership position where visibility and expectations are higher.
I remember two specific occasions in my early career - one where I took a role way outside of my knowledge base and another where I knew I would literally hate the job. In particular about the second one, people told me I was crazy. Why would you take a job you know you're going to hate?
I took both opportunities. Today in my current role running my own business consulting practice, on an almost daily basis I use the knowledge from both of those paths of most resistance. They broadened me even if that broadening process wasn't exactly fun at the time.
So the next time you have a career choice between the path of least resistance and the path of most resistance, choose the most resistance. The headwinds you feel early in your career will turn into tailwinds later in your career when you really need them. They did for me.