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Can a linear career path lead to happiness?

The Linear Life Path

If you're reading this article, you are probably not a linear careerist.

I define this path as choosing a career by age eighteen and planning carefully for success, deferring gratification to reach long-term goals. My favorite example is an eminent university professor (call him "Greg").

Greg discovered Freud and Skinner in high school. He majored in psychology as an undergraduate, entered a prestigious graduate program, and began publishing important articles with his mentor. He earned tenure easily and gained promotions early.

Today, fifty-year-old Greg has no regrets and, five minutes after meeting him, you sense that you are in the presence of someone who really enjoys his life.

In his book, View from a Monastery, Brother Benet Twedten tells us he saw his first Benedictine monks as a freshman at a Benedictine college. He knew at once that he wanted to join their monastery. By the time he wrote his best-seller, he had spent forty years in the monastery and had no intention of leaving.

Helen, one of six children in a lower middle class family, skipped a grade to enter a prestigious women's college on scholarship at age sixteen. Entering medical school after three years of college, she was "Dr. Helen" by age twenty-three. Thirty years later, Helen is a happy, respected cardiologist. She has just taken a leave from her busy practice to write a book.

Can a linear path lead to happiness?

Some career consultants are suspicious of linear careerists. "They're headed for meltdown," they say. "Midlife crisis will come."

I don't think so. I think they just knew themselves from a very early age and they had the self-confidence to demand what they needed. Their families and friends supported them. They were drawn to supportive schools, work environments and mentors. And most survive bouts of adversity. Success becomes a habit, they acquire a financial cushion, and the same self-confidence that got them started will carry them a long way.

If you meet someone who's been on the linear path, expect bewilderment when you share your own winding road or accidental path. Don't even go there. Invite them to a party and listen to their "How I Got Here" stories."

If your own path is linear, you may find a great mentor. If not, you'll be introduced to a whole new world, one you wish you could offer to the next generation.

Wish your own career path were more or less linear? Check out coaching.
Get started with the Career Freedom Worksheet or a teleclass.

Other career paths are the serendipity path and the winding road career path.

Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. is an author, career coach, and speaker. She works with mid-career professionals who want to make a fast move to career freedom. Visit her site or call 505-534-4294.

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