Why climbing the jungle gym – not the ladder – can lead to an interesting career path, and tips on how to do so
How many of you remember being five years old playing in the playground? I really loved the jungle gym. I could get on and off easily. I could move up and down, sideways or even hang upside-down. There was more than one way to get up. What´s more, I could hang out at the top with all of my kindergarten friends at the same time and we could stay as long as we wanted.
The same goes with my professional life. Since I began my career in 1999, I have been a marketing project manager, a high school teacher, a yoga instructor and an IT consultant.
My way was not always the easiest one but I made my jobs fit with changing priorities in different phases of my life. As my personal motto says: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” (Milton Berle). It’s all about creating your own opportunities, being proactive, but also being open to new possibilities. On the jungle gym, as much as it is helpful to be focused, I also had to be flexible. Interested? Here’s my jungle gym.
I started my career at an advertising agency. After I went back to school to get my MBA, I started working at the adidas Group in Brand Marketing as global internet marketing project manager in the digital team. I gave birth to my daughter and returned to work part-time after four months. When my husband, a teacher, got a job offer in Montreal, Canada, to work for the German International School, we decided as a family to embrace that opportunity and moved to Montreal. In Canada, I was offered a job as a high school teacher for economics and politics at the International School. In addition, my daughter, Lili, got two brothers, Max and Leo, and I got really into yoga. I took on another challenge and worked to get my yoga teacher certification. When I did yoga, I realized my kids loved doing yoga with me! One thing led to another and soon I started teaching kids yoga at our school and in the local community. After seven years in Canada and official parental leave – I think I hold the record for the longest here at the adidas Group – we moved back to Germany. I wanted to go back to my old job but realized that so many things had changed. After a few conversations with HR and my former colleagues, I decided to develop my skills in IT, sign up for the parental pool (a list of those who are on parental leave who would like to work for the Group in part-time temporary positions) – and wait for my dream job. Soon after, the parental pool program called me to work as a project manager in IT because a colleague was sick. I ended up staying in the department because the contacts from that temporary job led me to my current job. In the end, I got a job that I love – I also take pride in the fact that I am now considered an “IT geek”!
What I learned
I cannot lie that climbing the jungle gym wasn’t a struggle. For every move on the jungle gym, I was faced with opportunities and decisions. A new direction took me to a new place or even to a dead end. A ladder is easier because it´s only up and down. So how did I know which was the right way on the jungle gym? I didn´t! But I began to replace the “what if?” questions with “why not?” When faced with a new direction, I would create a mind map with some different possible scenarios to match short-term and long-term goals. Sheryl Sandberg talks in one of her chapters in the book Lean In about how the most common metaphor for a career path as a “ladder” is no longer true. On average, a worker changes jobs eleven times from ages 18 to 46. I’ve also read that job hopping statistics are increasing for the Millennium generation. Why is the traditional career model out? The jungle gym model has several advantages over the ladder model.
3 major advantages the jungle gym has over the ladder:
- Mobility: It is especially good for people who are starting careers, changing careers or coming back to the workforce after taking time off.
- Flexibility: You can combine an individual´s talents, skills and interests that develop over time. It offers greater chances for personal exploration.
- Inclusive: It offers opportunities to many, not just a chosen few (on top of the ladder there is only room for one).
Although this is my personal experience on the jungle gym, I wanted to mention that I am definitely not alone! But speaking out of my own experience, these are tips I can share for climbing the jungle gym:
7 tips for climbing the jungle gym
- Define your values: what is important to you? At different points in time, you may have different priorities.
- Evaluate your goals: create an “as-is” and “to-be” scenario for yourself. This can change but you can only recognize opportunities if you have a direction you want to take.
- Develop skills: Look to develop skills that are transferable across positions and industries.
- Be proactive: If you want more in your current job or you want to branch out into another field, ask someone who has your dream job. Talk to your manager or HR about possibilities.
- Apply for the position anyway: You don’t need to have all the skills – assess your knowledge “gaps” but keep in mind that you can learn these skills on the job, too.
- Network: Make your professional relationships one of your best resources for information about your future dream job. But don’t forget to give back to the network – pass on your knowledge and contacts to others. It’s a two-way street! I’ve helped start a Women’s Network here at adidas to do just that – women at adidas can join the group to learn from each other.
- Ask for help: Remember you are not climbing alone, sometimes you need help! In my case my support comes from my husband, my kids, my community (kindergarten and after-school programs), my manager´s support with flexitime … the list is long! So don´t be afraid to reach out to others to help you take your next jungle gym move.