Career Growth: Lateral vs. Linear Thinking

What’s the best way to move forward in your financial planning career? If we were asking this question a few decades ago, the answer would be pretty simple: get hired at a good firm, do your job well so you get promoted, climb the company’s internal ladder, and retire with a nice pension. Pretty simple right? 

For better or worse, that’s just not the way things are anymore. Modern careers simply don’t follow linear paths. 

Think beyond the ladder

Success in today’s professional world isn’t just a single ladder that you climb upward. It’s more like an ever-branching path with a continuous series of forks in the road. 

Moving “upward” in a modern career isn’t about following a single path, it’s about making good decisions at every opportunity. And sometimes, you need to decide to move ahead even when you don’t know exactly how things will turn out.

When you come to a fork in the road…

…take it. Yep, Yogi Berra knew what he was talking about!

It sounds trite, but in reality, things often are this simple. You’ll face choices all the time in your career, and a lot of the time, they’ll look like lateral forks in the road. You might not be able to tell which one is going to pay off in terms of advancing your career.

But the truth is that simply making a choice at each opportunity is a step on the path to success. Moving to find out what is next is itself a valuable choice. The only bad choice is refusing to make one – not trying something new just because you aren’t sure where it will lead.

Shoot your shot!

What does this actually mean in practice? It means, be bold! Take a chance, try something new. Make things happen instead of just waiting around for them to happen on their own. 

Sometimes, you’ll know exactly what you want and all you have to do is go after it. Ask for a raise, apply for that job, volunteer to take on a new client, or start an advanced degree program.

But sometimes you have to take the shot even if you don’t know exactly what the outcome will be. Maybe it’s helping someone with a project that’s a little outside your comfort zone or picking up a side gig you’re curious about. Maybe it’s creating a customized financial planning model because the traditional options just don’t excite you. There’s value in taking the next step just to see where it will go. 

Proactively push your career forward

Career growth nowadays is all about risk vs. reward. Passively doing good, consistent work isn’t enough to succeed. You need to know where you want to go and take steps to get there, even if some of those steps involve putting yourself out on a limb or trying something new.

What have you done to move forward in your financial planning career? Have you taken some risks that paid off?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

It can be scary to look at lateral career moves when you aren’t sure if they’ll pay off. But the more you diversify your experience, the better prepared you are to take the next step. 

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