Most of us think of our career path as a straight line that’s always pointing upward.
But the proverbial corporate ladder doesn’t always work that way. You hit a bump or take a detour down an unexpected road. In some cases, these reverse movements are actually necessary for moving forward.
As a career coach, I work with people facing massive transitions and hard choices every day. One of the biggest questions seems to be: “When does it make sense to take a step back or even to the side?”
Perfect example: A former client of mine (we’ll call him Scott) had worked for years in the local talk radio industry—a dying field if ever there was one. The opportunities for growth were limited and the potential for achieving his long-term financial goals nearly impossible. His passion for the work was waning as well. At the ripe young age of 40, he was re-evaluating his options.
While Scott certainly had a wide variety of transferrable skills and a track record of success, a new career path was just that—NEW. He would be starting over to some extent. He knew his salary could not be matched immediately. He knew he’d have to “pay his dues” and “learn the ropes” in any new field.
However, Scott also knew his new chosen field offered opportunities not available in the talk radio world. While his current industry was shrinking, the new one was expanding by leaps and bounds. There were exciting developments happening and, with the right company, he knew his earning potential would far exceed his current income. It almost certainly wouldn’t happen right away, but he was willing and able to make sacrifices in the short-term for long-term rewards.
This is just one example of a time when I’ve seen someone take a step back to go forward. It’s difficult, but it makes sense for many.
At times, it may also make sense to move laterally—accepting a position that isn’t really a step up or a step down, but one that offers future potential that is uniquely different from your current path.
When to Make a Lateral Career Move
So, the question remains: When do these moves make sense?
The answer isn’t simple. It makes sense when the path you’re on is no longer the right one to reach your goals. Whether it provides more satisfaction, greater opportunity or increased earning potential, the other road has something you simply can’t get where you are currently or where you will wind up if you stay on that path.
These moves require sacrifice in the short-run, so it’s important to do your due diligence and make sure it’s worthwhile.
If you are changing industries, you’re move will require commitment. The payoff typically happens years down the line. It’s not about immediate gratification; it’s about the long-term goal.
If you’re considering such a move, carefully weigh the pros and cons. What will be lost and what will be gained? Is that a fair trade for you and your family?
The traditional corporate ladder model is outdated. Very few people experience consistent forward progression along the same career path these days. Twists and turns not only make it more interesting but, if you plan wisely, they can make it more satisfying too.