Career paths are typically messy. The straightforward and commonly accepted conception of a career path is to start at some entry-level position in a given field, gradually work your way up the ladder, and eventually retire once you've found satisfaction somewhere at or near the top. Most of us will never follow this path, and that's probably a good thing. Instead, we'll be restarting from the bottom, jumping between industries, starting a business, failing, starting again, and possibly revisiting those options multiple times.
Changing or growing your career is exciting, but it's never easy. Acquiring new skills, exploring new options, and finding alternative paths are all difficult to do alone, and making a final decision is even tougher. Fortunately, there are many types of people that can help you find the right resources, gain the right skills, and make the right decisions for your future. You just have to know where to find them:
1. Mentors. Mentors are ideal contacts for any emerging professional because of what they bring to the table: experience. In most cases, your mentor has been in your position already, and he or she knows exactly what types of frustration and what kinds of conflict you're facing. They've made hard decisions and have seen the impact from those decisions, and you can use their experience to put your own situation in perspective. Mentors will give you advice for free, and they might even have industry contacts who can help you in achieving your career goals--whether that means finding a new position or using new resources in your current job.
2. Alumni. Your university's alumni association is an invaluable resource in building your career. Because you'll be working within a tight network of peers with a diverse career background, you'll be exposed to a number of different potential career paths, industries, and backgrounds. By interacting with other alumni and regularly reading alumni publications, you'll be instantly exposed to a range of new potential opportunities. Even if you choose not to actively participate in your school's official "alumni association," you can network with your former classmates and professors to learn of new opportunities and exchange ideas.
3. Networkers. In most major cities throughout the U.S., there are dozens of professional networking groups dedicated solely to enabling people to meet new people--and most of them are free or inexpensive. You never know who you might meet at one of these events, but therein lies one of the greatest benefits networkers have for advancing your career--diversity. By interacting with other professional networkers, you'll learn about new industries, new approaches, and how other people have built and managed their respective careers. If you're looking for advice, or just some perspective, networking events are a great place to go.
4. Community Group Members. Chances are, there are at least a handful of local community organizations or nonprofit groups operating in your geographic vicinity. These could be anything from small business organizations to entrepreneur-focused workshops to neighborhood development groups. Scope out the types of groups available in your region and don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone--most of these organizations exist to help people however they can, and won't turn you down if you show a genuine interest in their programs. Talk with individual members to get a feel for the group's dynamics, and make new contacts.
5. Volunteers. Volunteering is always a great way to meet new people, and the volunteers you meet will be valuable additions to your professional network. They might be able to recommend you for a new job opening up at their company, or they might see potential in you as a partner for a new enterprise they're starting up. Because you'll be working together in a context outside of your regular job, it's a perfect opportunity to learn more about your potential career aptitudes. Plus, listing volunteer experience on a résumé never hurt anyone.
6. Friends. Never underestimate the power your friends can have on your career. If you surround yourself with like-minded professionals, you can work together to share advice and experiences to advance together at your respective businesses. If you surround yourself with people from different industries and at different levels of employment, you'll get new perspectives that can help you contextualize your own position and career future. No matter what type of careers your friends have, you can always count on them for honest opinions and personal advice--which is indispensable when mapping out your future career.
7. Family. Last but not least, your family will help your career flourish. Your parents or siblings might have contacts who can help you find a new position or a new resource, and they might have experience that they can share with you to lead you in the right direction. Your spouse can help you make the hard decisions and objectively determine what's best for you in life. And most importantly, your family will be there for you no matter what career you choose--for better or worse--so you know you'll always have a support system to rely on.
Ultimately, your career path will be of your own choosing. You'll find the positions, you'll build the skills, and you'll be making the final decisions. But these seven people will help you out along the way. Making new contacts and reaching out for help can be the best career decision you'll ever make. You never know where or how your next opportunity will come about.