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  • Writer's pictureJohn Pabon

A Career is a Journey, Not a Destination

When I go out and speak to groups, I’ll often get university students eagerly waiting to ask me questions afterward. They’ll typically pick my brain on whatever the topic of the evening was, but inevitably someone sneaks in a few questions about career. What’s my advice for x, y, or z? Do they think sustainability is a growing field? What’s the easiest way to get a job at the UN?

No matter what the questions are, I’ll always give the same response: consider your career a journey and not a destination. I’m not sure where I first heard this, but it really does fit my own trajectory to a tee. While there are a few professions you need to decide on fairly early (see: doctor, lawyer, graduate philosophy professor), most of us spend a considerable amount of time figuring things out as we go along. I’m here to tell you that’s perfectly fine and entirely normal! You don’t have to have all the answers right out of school. The dirty little secret is that most of us don’t.

For me, I entered university dead set on becoming a classical musician. My choice of school, course work, and everything I did in high school was aimed at this one goal. For an arrogant teenager, having all the answers seemed like a very logical thing. After two years of undergrad work, though, I started to realize the job opportunities in music were few and far between. Serendipitously, this was also the time I discovered what would become my true passion: politics. Funny enough, I had delayed and delayed taking my required political science course until the very last opportunity. It just seemed so tedious. Boy, was I wrong.

Eventually, I graduated with a degree in political science and set off for grad school in New York. My goal was to get close to my dream job, the United Nations, while working towards my master’s. I hoped to network and maybe even get an internship. In another bit of providence, and being at the right place at the right time, I landed myself a job at the UN while still pursuing my degree. It was here I’d stay for several years, finish a double MA in international relations, and learn a lot about bureaucracy.

Over time, though, I realized there was so much more to learn than what my dream job could offer. On the advice of several mentors, I left the organization and tried my chops in the private sector. I carved my own career path, trying out different roles and gathering an immense amount of knowledge in the process. Upon my move to Shanghai, I was able to marry my public- and private-sector experience to become the sustainability professional I am today. All this knowledge has given me the confidence to start my own business, write a book, and speak to crowds of thousands (or avid readers, like yourself!).

But, I’m well aware my journey isn’t nearly over yet. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m still naïve enough to think I know what that journey entails. No. After all this time, I know being open and receptive to whatever comes my way is the best path forward. This is the same advice I’d give to anyone in their career, whether starting out of university or looking for change after decades in the workforce. Have a North Star guiding your way, but be fine taking any number of routes to reach your destination.

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