How #Career Paths Are Like the Roomba

roomba logoby Sheree Van Vreede (@rezlady)

For all of you Roomba fanatics out there (and I’m one of them), you will appreciate this post. If you’ve never witnessed an iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner in action, then the next best thing might be to picture a Zhu Zhu pet or some other sensor-operated device. (I happen to be obsessed with my Roomba at the moment. In fact, it is zipping around now, making me feel like my maid is hard at work and my house is being cared for while I blog away.)

Now it could just be that I have spent way too much time watching this thing zip around my home,

but as I watched it zigzag its way across one room to another the other day, it occurred to me that the way the Roomba maneuvers is a lot like my own career path, and the paths of most people I know.
To give you a visual, the Roomba does not clean a room in a linear way. It is sensor driven, so it zooms along until it runs (gently) into something, bounces off, spins around, and moves off in another direction. Figuring out how it approaches a room to clean can be perplexing because it doesn’t move in straight lines like you would do with a traditional vacuum cleaner. And I have seen it dart out of one room only to come back a little while later and clean up another area. When it gets tired (battery is low), is finished cleaning, or is full of dirt and dust, it heads back for home base. Sometimes it might even get caught and need a little assistance to get back on its way.

Like I said, I love my Roomba. But it is silly at times too. Not only does it run into things, but mine has an uncanny ability to shut the bathroom door and barricade itself inside it. 🙂  And sometimes if I give it too much free reign, it wanders around like it is a bit confused and in desperate need of its “virtual” walls.

Hopefully, by now, you are starting to see where I am going with this…if not, well, I’ll get there, I promise!

A lot of clients come to us at ITtechExec frustrated that their careers haven’t run a straight course. Somewhere each of us has this fantasy that we are going to enter into a career that logically progresses up some ladder, that if we just work hard, get the right credentials, and show up with some sense of loyalty or devotion, all will keep moving up along that ladder. We might differ in what our end game is…money, title, work/life balance, comfort, happiness, etc….but we tend to share this common idea that if we try hard, set the goal, it will work out…as planned (or close to it).

The problem is that reality more often than not doesn’t jive with our hopes/dreams. And how we deal with that is what usually distinguishes us in the workforce. As a small business owner of 2 businesses, I have learned this lesson not once but twice. You can do all the “right” things; you can have a great product; you can work tons of hours. But none of that is a guarantee.

Each week we hold strategy meetings where we plan and brainstorm and hold ourselves accountable. We sound sooooo smart in these meetings! But it isn’t long before we run headlong into some obstacle that steers us off course. Or we will be zipping along just fine until something happens, and we, for no good reason, go darting off in another direction. And many times we go the long way around before ending back up right where we started.

Certainly, there are always some people who seem to steadily progress in their careers with very few collisions along the way.

But after working with job seeker after job seeker after job seeker, I can tell you that they are few and far between.

The point, to me anyway, is not so much how straight the path is but how willing you are to persevere. My Roomba might take a break back at home base every once in a while, but it never gives up entirely. More importantly, though, it doesn’t even expect the path to be straight and it knows obstacles/setbacks will come up.

Now, I am not suggesting we all turn into robots, nor should we stop strategizing when it comes to our careers, but we do need to look at reality a bit more. Dream big, yes. Work hard, yes. But understand that life is full of bumps, bruises, and risks. One might even argue that they are often the things that make life the most interesting.

At the end of the day, the Roomba gets the room clean; it just doesn’t follow the simplest path to get there. And most likely, when it comes to your career, neither will you.

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