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    There Is No Such Thing as a Straight Line in a Career

    By Julie Gleeson

    Many clients come to me feeling distressed that their career has ended, taken a hard left or right turn, or is no longer satisfying.  That is understandable, as all of us tend to feel uncomfortable and conflicted when things do not go as we had planned. We may think, “There must be something wrong with me,” or, “They (the company, your manager, your coworkers) really suck.” In my view, much of this struggle is due to a misunderstanding about the nature of time, and the stages of a career.

    Most of us were raised with the understanding that time is linear. It begins when we are born, then goes through fairly standard stages until we die. Some of these stages might include learning to walk, going to school, learning to drive, working a full-time job, getting married, having kids, changing jobs and then retiring. There are things on the list you may not have done yet, or did in a different order, or will never do. There are plenty of things that you did—or will do—that are not even on it.

    Due to our linear time-conditioning, when something occurs that appears atypical—for example, your parents’ divorce, you or a family member experience serious illness, you lose a parent, you come out as gay, you get fired, you get divorced—it feels like falling off this illusory timeline. You are left scrambling to get back on the line, thinking there is something wrong with you.

    The truth is, there are few, if any, straight lines in nature, as the concept of “straight” is relative.

    Nearly everything has a slight curve to it, and time is actually cyclical in nature. Most of our efforts have an inception, building and completion phase, followed by a period of rest and reflection until the new point of inception emerges. The last part of the cycle—a call for rest and reflection—is not appreciated or practiced much in our culture, yet all artists know that this is where creativity and inspiration are incubated. If the last part of the cycle is never completed, you will never get to anywhere new, and you will continue to experience frustration.

    Careers move in cycles as well. In our teens and twenties—maybe even into our early thirties—we are in exploring mode: trying things out, experiencing new things, learning how to be at work. We might try corporate life, non-profits, mentorships, or internships. We might become entrepreneurs. We cycle through each thing we try, and if we give ourselves permission, we enjoy the challenge of the hunt.

    Our thirties and forties usually find us stabilized in an industry or category, learning about leadership, excellence, teamwork and accomplishment. We may move around within the category or industry, sometimes a lot, but we are usually focused in a specific direction.

    Then we come to a period of transition. This is the rest and reflection phase, but most of us haven’t been taught that this is a natural phase to go through. Physically, our hormones change—both in men and women—underlying, in part, our consideration of new things. Our children, if we had them, are usually well on their way to adulthood. We have had success in some areas, or all areas. Now we begin to consider our legacy years, or how to bring meaning into the rest of our lives. 

    This call for a new time of exploration is often ignored, yet it continues to nudge and prod most of us until we pay attention. This is a perfect time to invest in some mentoring or coaching to help you hear the theme of your life. I call this “design”—the thing that makes sense of your life and career—the foundation that will allow you to hear what’s next. For some, their design is obvious. More and more, however, I am finding that people between 40 and 65 who begin this transition are deeply helped by working with someone who knows this phase is a natural, and necessary, part of the career and life cycle.

    Please call me if you would like to explore finding your unique career design. The first call is always no charge, and is almost always helpful.

    Julie Gleeson is the Co-founder of the Career Wisdom Institute and the Founder of The Art of Living Inc. She brings over 25 years of experience as a consultant in the fields of career designing, resilience, stress and overwhelm elimination, and couples mentoring. Julie is also a Co-Author of the best-selling book, “Inside Job, 8 Secrets to Loving Your Work and Thriving” ( She can be reached at or 925-408-8422. Check out her website for more information, including about her career workshops.