Climbing Frames, not Ladders – 21st Century Careers

“You need your feet on the ground, your eyes on the horizon and your head in the clouds.”


Photo credit: Paul Keating

This was such an insightful piece of career advice from a most valued mentor. It was 2000 and my mentor could already see that the DotCom bubble was shaking up the world of work and that a new age was dawning. We were on the cusp of technological innovations epoch-making world events and social change. Fourteen year later, most traditional career development assumptions have been thrown into disarray.

Generation Flux

In what Fast Company has termed ‘Generation Flux’, career conventions no longer exist for today’s top talent. Let’s start with a bit of careers myth-busting:

  • No more career ‘ladders’ – even the biggest global employers struggle to maintain an organisational structure for longer than 24 months. Expect career ‘climbing-frames’ not ladders, IMG_4206your career may require side-steps, a few reversals, and maybe a total change in direction.
  • No perfect role models – look wide and look wisely for your career inspiration, it will never be embodied in just one person.
  • No life-long path – for many of us, our career will include at least one, if not several, changes into related and new specialisms.
  • No such thing as ‘retirement’ – slowing down, a change of pace or pursuits? That’s maybe more like it. There’s unlikely to be many who will achieve long-term golden years without the need to continue earning.

Super-Hybrid Career Design

So how can we navigate this unfamiliar territory? Especially as for many of us, it flies in the face of everything our parents, teachers and career advisors may have told us. Here are some perspectives to consider:

  1. Eyes on the Horizon – Whether you’re employed, self-employed, in a secure career or not, always keep your eyes on the horizon for changes, and trends. What can you learn from people outside your own chosen profession or sector. What skills are growing or declining in demand? How strong is your network outside of your current role? Who would you call if you suddenly found yourself out of a job?
  2. Feet on the Ground – Are you making the most of the career you’re in? If you’re feeling stale, does anyone know and can they advise? Are you keeping your head down in denial, or actively seeking out support and opportunities that will keep you up-to-date?
  3. Head in the Clouds – Are you doing what your childhood-self hoped for? What sparks your imagination and passions beyond your current career path? Is it time to start nurturing a ‘micro-career’ (something that earns you a modest secondary income now that could turn bigger in future)? In the age of free and low-cost higher education, is there a course of study you could pursue on-line that enables you to explore a new interest?

In my life I know IMG_5356a civil engineer/restauranteur, a project manager/sports-coach, an IT specialist/property developer, a PA/florist and I married an engineer/photographer! How might your career shape up and what new paths could you explore? Look up, look out and connect with new possibilities, the future’s happening now.


Climbing Frames, not Ladders – 21st Century Careers — 1 Comment

  1. You describe a world of work that is a lot different to that of our parents . It’s an exciting world

    As always you make some very good points – and present some good tips.

    One other thing to consider is the way that you organise your finances – It’s hard but always aim to have them organised so you can take time out, retrain etc when necessary.

    It may not be retraining for something really new – but just simply to refresh some skills you used in an earlier phase of your career. I know several of IT managers who have gone back into being freelance programmers – and actually they are happier and get paid about the same as they were as managers.