Is Your Career Path One Big Mistake?

Last Updated Jun 8, 2011 9:21 PM EDT

By Lara Galinsky
What led you to the career you're in? Understanding why you landed in a profession and pursued that path can help you figure out where you want to go next.

As vice president of Echoing Green, a nonprofit that promotes social entrepreneurship, I've spent the last two years researching a book called Work on Purpose. Over the past 25 years, Echoing Green has invested over $30 million in seed funding to 500 social entrepreneurs and organizations, and I've studied and interviewed dozens of these social innovators about their career paths for the book.

Listening to them, I began to notice the powerful role that their childhoods played in their career development. There were tangible clues and often pivotal moments that shaped their decisions, and I started to think about how much my own childhood played a role in my career.

My mom, Ellen Galinsky, is a pioneer in the work-life field and has run the nonprofit, Families and Work Institute (FWI) since 1988. When I was a young kid, I used to sneak into the kitchen and pick up the phone when my mom was on a call. Of course, I knew she was on a work call. I wanted to listen in on her conversations.

To me, my mom's career was fascinating. I vividly remember my mom telling me that FWI's research showed people's view of work is heavily influenced by how their parents talked about their jobs; if they came home complaining of ineffective bosses and stress, they unknowingly communicated that work is dismal. I guess the reverse was true too. I could see that my mother's work invigorated her, and by the time I graduated from college, I knew I wanted the same.

I wasn't as interested in entering the work-life field, so I cut my own path. But the similarities are there. I've been focused on studying people's career trajectory, albeit in the context of social entrepreneurship, and much of what my mother told me about her research has infused my own.

And I started to realize: When people think about their career paths, they tend not to consider their lives beyond the recent past. But what if your "resume" included your childhood experiences as well? How much more meaningful might your career be if you were to both update and backdate your resume for yourself? How much insight would it give you to your next steps?

Want to backdate your resume? Here is a list of questions that you can ask yourself (a bunch of these came from Echoing Green staff.)

Choose a few to answer. And let me know in the comments section below if it helps you take a wider look at yourself, who you want to be, and how to create a career that is right for you.
  1. What did your family or community teach you about work?
  2. What lessons from your family or community do you want to hold close to your heart today and what do you want to let go of?
  3. What did you spend your free-time doing as a child?
  4. What did you learn early in school that you still use today?
  5. What role did you play in your group of friends as a child?
  6. Who did you look up to as a kid?
  7. What was your nickname growing up? What did you want your nickname to be?
Lara Galinsky is an author, career expert and senior vice president of Echoing Green. With the mission to unleash the next generation of talent to solve the world's biggest problems, Echoing Green offers seed funding fellowships to the world's most promising social entrepreneurs. Over the last two decades, Echoing Green has invested $30 million in funding to 500 visionaries from around the world. Follow Lara and Echoing Green.
  • Lindsay Blakely

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