The power in taking the path less travelled
As I close in on a 20-year career – I have asked myself a few things:
- How did I get this old!
- What have I learned?
- What would I say to someone starting out?
While I could come up with a lot of interesting answers to the first two questions – I have a few ideas about the third question that might be useful.
My background is not particularly unique – like most of us, I worked my way through university, hoping for good marks and a job opportunity at the end of it. I was fortunate in this regard, and after a graduate program in an Australian bank, I have spent the last 18 years working in the finance sector (across both banking and insurance).
While this all sounds pretty civilised and normal, that is where the story takes a detour! I began my career in a ‘generalist’ graduate program – what a precursor that was for things to come. I initially had hesitations about this – most people around me had some form of specialisation, be it accounting, corporate finance, actuarial studies…you name it. What does a generalist do? What is their core skill set?
The answer is – a lot. In my years, I have worked in project management, policy research, marketing strategy and product development. I’ve worked on everything from the sale of businesses, through to helping start-ups open their doors.
Did I have the specific qualifications to do most of these things when I walked out the door of UTS in late 2003? Most definitely not!
What’s important is navigating your own way through your career in a way that works for you. Many of us work in a very well-defined and structured field from Day 1 – and that often works perfectly well. However, if you’re coming towards the end of your degree and are still struggling with the ‘what do I do’ question, here are a couple of things to think about:
- Most employers value diversity in thought – they don’t want everyone to look at challenges the same way.
- Every experience you have throughout your career builds up your ability to bring diverse thinking to the table – having a well-thought-out, unique perspective on a ‘challenge’ is invaluable in most workplaces.
- Most people don’t ‘make their millions’ in their 20s – sure, some do, but if you can, take the time to try out a few ladders before figuring out which one you want to climb.
- It sounds like a cliché but what employers need and what you need to be successful is changing quicker than ever. What might have made you successful six months ago can mean nothing in six months. Flexibility and adaptability are really, really important.
- Diversity in experiences and roles is a great way to open up the types of roles you can do in the future – the more ‘experiences’ you have, the more potential doors you can walk through – be it in 12 months or 12 years.
A few years ago, almost every ‘Ted Talk’ seemed to include at least one reference to something Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said. It was overdone – but one thing always stayed with me on those nights of reflection. To put it simply – in one speech, he talked about his time signing up for calligraphy classes while a freshman at Reed College. There wasn’t an apparent link at the time to where his career wanted to go, but many years later, Jobs utilised his knowledge of fonts to create a key point of difference for Apple in a crowded marketplace.
The point is – don’t feel like you need to join every dot immediately. Try new experiences, join meetings outside of work on topics you know nothing about, and have conversations with people you’d never talk to outside a university hall. Don’t overthink it – be comfortable with the uncomfortable – many of us have taken very non-linear paths throughout our careers. You might be surprised by how much you get out of it along the way. Enjoy the ride!
Shane completed an undergraduate degree at UTS from 2001-2003. The business degree included a major in banking, with sub-majors in sports management and business law. From 2005 onwards Shane spent a number of years in the banking sector, before transitioning across to the insurance industry in 2019.