What's the future of You?
It's over. No more vertical. No more ladder. That's not the way careers work anymore. Linearity is out. A career is now a checkerboard. Or even a maze. It's full of moves that go sideways, forward, slide on the diagonal, even go backward when that makes sense. (It often does.) A career is a portfolio of projects that teach you new skills, gain you new expertise, develop new capabilities, grow your colleague set, and constantly reinvent you as a brand.
As you scope out the path your "career" will take, remember: the last thing you want to do is become a manager. Like "résumé," "manager" is an obsolete term. It's practically synonymous with "dead end job." What you want is a steady diet of more interesting, more challenging, more provocative projects. When you look at the progression of a career constructed out of projects, directionality is not only hard to track - Which way is up? - but it's also totally irrelevant.
Instead of making yourself a slave to the concept of a career ladder, reinvent yourself on a semi regular basis. Start by writing your own mission statement, to guide you as CEO of Me Inc. What turns you on? Learning something new? Gaining recognition for your skills as a technical wizard? Shepherding new ideas from concept to market? What's your personal definition of success? Money? Power? Fame? Or doing what you love? However you answer these questions, search relentlessly for job or project opportunities that fit your mission statement. And review that mission statement every six months to make sure you still believe what you wrote.
No matter what you're doing today, there are four things you've got to measure yourself against. First, you've got to be a great teammate and a supportive colleague. Second, you've got to be an exceptional expert at something that has real value. Third, you've got to be a broad-gauged visionary - a leader, a teacher, a farsighted "imagineer." Fourth, you've got to be a businessperson - you've got to be obsessed with pragmatic outcomes.
Remember, You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today. Or else.