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This Is How To Change Careers Without Spiraling Into The Unknown

Source | FastCompany : BY DEV AUJLA

Our careers have a momentum to them that is self-perpetuating. But what happens when we take dramatically different paths? How do you do it without risking it all or starting from zero? The ability to make these dramatic nonlinear moves is a defining characteristic of many careers of Fast Company‘s Most Creative People In Business, from Genevieve Bell (Most Creative 2009), an anthropologist in a room full of technologists, to Albert Lee (Most Creative 2014), an architect and designer in a room full of investors.

The career paths of these individuals can seem out of reach to most of us because when we read about them, we don’t hear the practical not-talked-about ways people deal with the fears of failing, losing security, and spiraling into the unknown when making nonlinear moves–until now.

Lee is a soft-spoken individual who has become a trusted behind-the-scenes adviser for some of the fastest growing startups in Silicon Valley. His nonlinear career has taken him from summers working at Alice Waters’s restaurant Chez Panisse to apprenticing as an architect at Frank Gehry’s Studio. Early in his career, a mentor told him to “always do the other thing in the room,” and he has taken that to heart. When Lee reached a moment of stasis, he would shift. He left the architecture world to become an art director at a design agency, and from there, to business school, where he was the sole designer in a room full of executives. Lee’s actions seem to have a sense of gravity, but he wasn’t always like this. To feel comfortable going against the grain, he uses a technique he calls “flooring his downside.”

“Flooring the downside” means writing a story that explains failing and returning to what you were doing before you even consider making the transition. These stories prevent you from imagining the bottomless failure that awaits if the transition doesn’t go smoothly.

There are three specific types of stories that you can craft that will not only put a “floor underneath your risk,” but will help propel you forward in your career, even if you return from a nonlinear transition within the first few months.


Before you take a new path, ask yourself, What question you are trying to answer by taking this new path? In your story, explain how you were able to answer that question as a result of your nonlinear experience. How are those new answers going to help you do your old job in a better way? Answering and pursuing a question expresses a directionality to your career trajectory that people respect, envy, and see as a marker of success, regardless of now nonlinear it may be.

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