- Experts say too many people suffer from the “delusional belief” that their careers should be linear — and it’s not doing them any favours.
- Successful Australian entrepreneurs say people should think of themselves as “entrepreneurs” rather than “employees,” explain why the linear career isn’t always the most secure, and how to know when it’s time to change directions.
Rebekah Campbell is a serial entrepreneur having founded four successful businesses, ranging from music to retail.
She launched her first venture at the age of 22 — a music company that went on to represent Evermore, Operator Please, Lisa Mitchell, Matt Corby, and more.
“It kind of unexpectedly became a business,” says Campbell, who started managing bands out of a passion for music.
“At the time I was 22-years-old and lots of my friends worked at record companies.
“I remember at the time being really jealous of them because working at a record company gave you all these really cool benefits like money coming into your bank account every fortnight,” she joked.
“You’ve got a business card and a fancy title that became a part of your identity… and it seemed like they had a lot of security in this stable job.
“In contrast, being a band manager, I was out there hustling, trying to convince bands to let me manage them, trying to get them gigs… all to try to scrap together enough money to pay for my rent every week.
“It felt like it was really risky. My parents at the time were not very happy about the career direction I was on and thought I should get a stable job.”
Campbell likened such a career to an escalator: you get on, ride it to the top where you make it as “a GM or you have a C in front of your job title… and then you retire, and make room for the rest”.
But as it turned out, the music industry was one of the first sectors disrupted by technology, dramatically reducing the number of companies and jobs available, and therefore putting the friends she once envied out of work.
“A lot of my friends really struggled because they had this idea that their career was going to look like, and had this expectation that they were going to progress up this escalator. Suddenly they were kicked off and didn’t have much of an idea about how to pick themselves up or know what to do next,” Campbell said.
“Whereas I had a lot more security. Even though I wasn’t particularly wealthy, I was self-sufficient in that there wasn’t really a chance that I was going to be made redundant.
“That really made me start thinking about how should we think about ourselves… and they way we develop our careers.”
A few years, and startups later, Campbell has launched Zambesi — a platform that connects leaders at high growth technology companies with other organisations and individuals looking to learn.
Experts from companies including Canva, Showpo, Atlassian, Hipages, Google, Facebook and more, are already offering workshops to share their skills. Sessions average about $600 each.
“They’re all people who are doing it now, so they can share insights that are super cutting-edge,” says Campbell, which is a benefit at a time when advancing technology means new processes and information are being developed every day.
From ’employee’ to ‘entrepreneur’
She says this shift in the workforce also means people need to start thinking of themselves as “entrepreneurs” rather than “employees.
“That doesn’t mean everybody is going to necessarily start a business. But it means everybody is the CEO/founder of their own business, which is their own career.”
She says people should be thinking of themselves as a product that’s continually evolving and looking for new opportunities. People should also be considering their personal brand and network.
“What are we known for being an expert in? What are our culture and values as a person, and how is that reflected in our online presence? Who is going to refer you?” she says.
Campbell’s advice, reflects a recent Business Insider article in which experts say too many people suffer from a “delusional belief” that a career should follow a linear path.
Psychology researcher Tania Luna and the Weight Watchers International executive Jordan Cohen say that modern employees suffering from their belief in the “career myth” are being held back from success.
They argue that it’s no longer the case that employees can expect incremental chances to advance up the career ladder, rather people need to embrace uncertainty by changing roles, or even industries, without a final destination in mind.
“When we envision a career, we imagine a direct path with a final destination,” the authors wrote. “And not long ago, this concept was useful.”
They added: “This vision of career growth no longer matches reality. We no longer need to be good at predicting the future; we now have to succeed when the future is unpredictable.”
But that doesn’t mean taking the jump is easy.
Tame the mammoth
Expert360 co-founder and CEO Bridget Loudon says “it’s super scary”.
She had a successful career at management consulting firm Bain & Company, when she quit her job to launch her business.
“I actually had one idea, but that was terrible and I won’t go into that, but I left Bain and became a freelancer to order to pay for this other startup that I was doing,” she says.
It wasn’t until she realised how difficult it was to be a freelancer that she saw a gap in the market, and launched Expert360.
Despite her subsequent success, she says leaving the security of a stable job “is always scary for everyone no matter who you are or what generation you are”.
“There’s this really awesome article called Taming the Mammoth on a blog called what Wait But Why,” she says.
“It’s this concept that there’s always this woolly mammoth that when we’re thinking about making decisions in our life that’s actually saying things like ‘no, don’t quit everyone’s looking at you.’ And we all have those mammoth in our life, that we think ‘what will they think of us,’ when making a decision.
“I always used to think about Bain partner Simon Henderson, what would he think of me?
“We all have a mammoth – for some of us it’s our mum or dad, and I think that making that leap is seeing who your mammoths are… and thinking ‘I see I’m thinking about what you think of me, but actually I’m going to think about what I want to do’. And actually no one really cares, particularly Simon Henderson, about what I do.”
Take the jump
Hiam Sakakini, former head of leadership at Google APAC, is familiar with this career change terror.
She also choose to jump off the linear career path into a venture of her own.
“As a veteran of an organisation that has literally changed the world by democratising information, and that infiltrates your every cell with a new way of thinking and behaving, I can tell you that leaving Google felt… terrifying,” she says.
“The culture of this company made you fall madly in love with going to work every day.
“For me, it was a sense of collaboration, camaraderie, exploration, experimentation, fun and accomplishment. Doing ‘shit that matters’ kept me in that wonderful place for 10 years. A fifth of my working life was gone in what felt like nanoseconds.”
She wondered whether she could manage without the comfortable salary, great benefits, and luxurious work surroundings.
But when she heard people talking about “the good old days” she likened it to “a couple whose relationship had gone stale,” and knew it was now or never.
There were “heart-stopping moments of pure panic” but she made the jump and “starting my own business was in fact the smartest decision I’ve made for the times we are in”.
“The writing is on the wall in terms of large scale layoffs happening right now due to new models of working, the effects of automation and the globalisation of the workforce,” she says.
“An executive assistant can be replaced by a virtual assistant at a fraction of the cost. A website designer can either be hired for very little on Upwork or an online website-builder makes it easy for a five year old to build a website these days.
“The effects of automation on the jobs market in Australia means five million jobs will be automated in 2025 in Australia — that’s 40% of jobs.”
Sakakini says automation will change the very fabric of how we live, and as a result full-time permanent roles will be very few and far between.
“At some point in your career, you will need to think about how you will commoditise your valuable knowledge, expertise and skills in the free market,” she says.
“In other words, become a freelancer. You will need to learn the art and science not only of consulting, but pricing, packaging and selling your services, building a client portfolio, navigating tax, contracts and employment laws.
“Take a deep breath now… and build.”
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