In Editorial/ High School/ Middle School/ Risk-Taking

Life Isn’t Linear

Life Isn't Linear

Life isn’t Linear. At least, it has not been for me or most of my role models.

At lunch the other day, I was speaking with a frustrated mother whose middle school was recruiting parents for a Career Day. She was on the recruitment committee. The parents attending Career Day all had linear career paths to their current jobs as investment bankers, wealth managers, lawyers, and doctors, but no entrepreneurs. Each parent had a clear path to career success, giving the message to kids that, if they know what they want to do by age 18, they can have a successful career too.

Despite her requests to find someone with a less clear-cut career path to inspire the students who do not want to be in finance and who do not operate in such a linear fashion, the committee was not interested in finding such a person.

That is a mistake.

Kids need proper role models. Ones in whom they can see themselves. But such extensive career planning and execution are simply not a part of who some students are. We teach students to pursue their passions and to be well-rounded, but then expect them to be singularly focused when it comes to their careers.

So where are the entrepreneurs? The problem solvers? The ones for whom the end goal is a little less obvious at the beginning? What about the Richard Bransons who start magazines at age 16 (and who have dyslexia) and who go on to found companies that are made up of more than 400 other companies?

There is a popular LinkedIn post titled, “These 150 People Are Ridiculously Successful and All Have the Same Career Path: None”. What about any of those people?

One of my biggest role models, my dad, did not have a clear career path. After college, he joined the Navy, went to business school and ended up in Human Resources at NBC. He was then offered positions in the company with the finance department (about which he knew nothing), and eventually he ended up as the general manager of a radio station. From there, he went on to start his own company flipping radio stations like someone would flip a house. If you were to tell someone that to be a radio executive you needed to start in the Navy, no one would believe you.

The point is: there is merit in the journey and it is okay not to have a linear career path.


Adam Grant, writer for The New York Times, recently published an article “How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off”. The gist of the article was that when really smart kids are told exactly how to complete a task, they do it really well. And when they show interest in a career and focus on it, they flourish. However, they do not change their respective fields. Instead, “They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves” (2016). The kids who are given more freedom to figure out their own values and interests are much more likely to become the “adult geniuses who change the world” (2016). Parents of these children “encouraged their children to pursue excellence and success – but they also encouraged them to find ‘joy in work.'” These children were encouraged to pursue their interests, whatever they might be, and that led to successful, creative, often revolutionary careers.

Indeed, Grant continues, “Evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth, of our knowledge and experience…. In science, winning a Nobel Prize is less about being a single-minded genius and more about being interested in many things. Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians…” (2016).

Off to defend his thesis for his PhD in Mathematics, this young man rides a unicycle and juggles, just because he likes it!

Not knowing what you want to do for a career, being interested in several different options, going down different paths before you get to your dream job is worthwhile. The breadth of your experiences can enhance your ability to succeed at your job!

There are benefits to a linear path too, of course. My other role model, my mother, was a nurse. She went to college for nursing and graduate school to further her nursing acumen. Then she was the head of all the nurses at her hospital at a young age. She dominated her career by being so focused. But my dad also dominated his career by having a multitude of experiences. Both ways can work and schools should at least show children there is more than one, clear-cut path to a successful career. However, if your school does not, you can still discuss the many ways to be successful career-wise with your children. 


Grant, A. (2016). How to raise a creative child. Step one: Back off. The New York Times.

Karabell, Z. (2015). These 150 people are ridiculously successful and all have the same career path: None.


You Might Also Like