Whenever I give talks on career strategies for older Australians, I emphasise the need for agility in your career planning.

My dictionary defines agility as being:

  • able to move quickly and easily
  • able to think and understand quickly

It’s likely that 50 years ago, this quality of agility was less valued in business than were others such as steadiness, loyalty and single-minded focus. These still have their place, of course, but we now also need the ability to respond quickly, to be nimble and flexible in our thinking.

The world of work is changing, and will continue to do so. It is no longer possible to look around and decide on one career direction, and then slot yourself into a pre-defined role and follow a pre-defined career path throughout your working life. These days, you need to work ‘inside-out’. This means that you need to know yourself really well – your strengths, values, longterm goals, definition of success – so that as the world changes, you can identify new opportunities and possibilities that will resonate with you, will tap into your strengths and to which you can add value.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing many of Australia’s top business leaders on a range of subjects. In each case, I asked them about their career path. Most mentioned the expected milestones, qualifications and experiences. But interestingly, almost all also spoke of a moment when they identified a career opportunity that was perhaps off their usual radar, or not a typical move for someone in their position. Most of them relied on their self-knowledge and long-term goals to assess this prospect – and decided to seize the opportunity even if it went against the ‘usual’ career planning advice. Every leader I spoke to who did this said that it was a valuable, or in some cases, vital part of their career progression, and paid off big-time for them down the track.

Now, this does not mean you should be lured off your path by random bright shiny objects, or make any career decision without thinking it through. But if you know yourself and what’s important to you, and if you have the confidence and courage to spot an opening and to move quickly when ‘luck’ offers you new possibilities, then it might make all the difference to your career resilience and trajectory.

Apparently the leopard is the most agile of the mammals, so maybe the old fable needs to be rewritten, so it’s no longer a race between ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ but rather ‘The (not so agile) Tortoise and the (agile) Leopard’?

What do you think?

Joanna Maxwell


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