How did I get here?

The Unintentional Path

Do you ever feel like you’re on the wrong path in your career? 

Maybe you feel like something is a little off (or even really off), but you don’t exactly know how to fix it. Plus, you’ve invested all this time, energy, and money, so what are you supposed to do?

Feeling like things are off can be a symptom of being on an unintentional path.

It's not wrong; but it's not right either.

An unintentional path happens when you don’t decide ahead of time, with intention, where you want to go. Maybe you did what was in front of you, or you did what someone else said you should. Or, you did the easiest, most socially acceptable thing. Like most of us!

If we dig a little deeper, we also find that this frequently happens when we don’t dream big enough dreams for ourselves. 

In this situation, it may not be wrong; but it may not be right either. The thing about it is that every path takes effort. Putting a lot of effort into something that doesn’t make your heart sing is really hard.

It happens more often these days.

I think more and more people are ending up on the unintentional path these days. Mostly, because we’re following the out-dated formula of: go to college, work at the same company, retire, do nothing. 

These days, it’s more complex than that, but we don’t receive any real guidance. You’re on your own to navigate it. Even if you “did everything right”, you can still end up somewhere you don’t want to be. Especially, later in your career.

This is a silent problem.

When things go wrong, women tend to blame themselves. We’re experts at beating ourselves up, of taking on all the responsibility when things go awry. So, when we end up somewhere we don’t want to be, we tend to blame ourselves, stay quiet, and put on a brave face.

But, the truth is that we end up on unintentional paths, for very good reasons that are no one’s fault. We also stay on these paths for longer than we should, for the same very good reasons. The problem is, when you keep at it for a decade or two, it takes a toll.

When we try to fix it, typically, we do some version of:

  1. Lean in, but the extra effort we put in, doesn’t pay off, so we put even more energy in, leading to burn out.
  2. Get the same job, but at a rival company (frying pan into the fire)
  3. Get bitter
  4. Quit and become an entrepreneur (Because that will be so much easier. Ha.)
  5. Move to a different city/country
  6. Try to be one of the Kool Kids and be young and hip so we still fit

P.S. I have done all of these!

Certainly, any of these things can work. But, what if they don’t?

The thing about all these moves is that you’re moving away from what you don’t want versus towards what you do want. When you do that, it’s very likely that you’re unintentionally making a lateral move.

Any big move like this takes time, money, and energy. It can be pretty disappointing to end up where you started, after spending a bunch of time, money, and energy.

What are you making it mean?

This is a great question to ask. This is because the answer can reveal why this might be so difficult for you.

The most painful thing you can do is to make it mean something about who you are. By that, I mean that you take it into your identity and start making “I am” statements. “I am a loser.” “I am an idiot.” “I am too old.”

These “I am,” statements are devastating to us because they are about our very identities – who we are, not about what we’ve done. If it’s about who we are, it feels unfixable.

All it really means.

All it really means, when you end up on an unintentional path, is that simply you’re on the wrong path and you need to get on a better one. 

Or, it could mean that you are going through a phase or a chapter in life, and it’s time for a change. Everything has a season. We all go through these.

It doesn’t have to mean anything about you at all. Just that at an early age, you did your best, but today it’s falling short. Your original path served its purpose, and now it’s time to really get on an intentional path. That’s it. That’s all. 

The Antidote

If you find yourself on an Unintentional Path, the antidote is to pause and dream your biggest dream for yourself. Make it an impossible dream. Don’t worry – life will whittle it down to size. Your job is to make it as big as you can and feel the excitement, hope, love. 

Make it come alive with feelings and ideas so incredible, so it becomes a beacon in front of you. Revel in it. 

I acknowledge that it’s a little more complex than this, but this can be an important first step to the Intentional Path. 

The Unintentional Path