Our economy is more dynamic than ever. In spite of this new normal, many people continue to think about career pathways in a very old-fashioned, outdated manner. Here are five of the most persistent myths we encounter in our career counseling work at UW-Madison.

career myths

Career counselor Moira Kelley: ‘Don’t be afraid to try something new.’

  1. There is one perfect career for me. This is unnecessarily limiting and more than a little intimidating. Most people will have multiple jobs over the course of their lives, and the kinds of jobs they pursue will reflect their changing attitudes, preferences and lifestyles. Instead of worrying about picking the perfect career, give yourself permission to experiment.
  2. Once I choose a career I’m stuck with it. Switching careers can be hard, but sticking with a job you don’t like is worse. Even after you invest considerable time, money and energy in a specific career field, it’s still advisable to cut your losses if you realize you’re ready for a new challenge. For the sake of your own physical and mental health, find something that makes you feel fulfilled.
  3. I’m too old. It’s too late to change. This may be true for certain career fields that have hard-and-fast age limits such as law enforcement or the military, but most remain open to people of all ages. In one of my career workshops, I encountered a 70-year-old woman who first worked as an English teacher, then took a job in a small-engine plant. When the plant closed she decided it was time to jump on the technology wagon, so she enrolled in computer courses.
  4. My career path should follow a neat, straight line. No two journeys are exactly alike, but most include at least a few curves and bumps. Sure, some people start at the bottom and work their way up. Others make lateral moves from one career to another. In some cases, people weigh the pros and cons of a career move and decide it’s worth taking a step backward in terms of seniority or pay to land a job they really love.
  5. If I complete a career assessment, it will tell me what to do. Career assessments are not designed to match you with a single occupation but rather to provide a structure, framework, and language to discuss your interests, skills, values and preferences. Assessments stimulate learning, and it’s up to you to make use of the information. The answers ultimately come from within you.

Even if you’re not 100 percent sure that a career change is in your future, it may be worth learning more about the options available to you. After all, you’ll never know if there’s a better fit if you never try anything else.

So schedule some informational interviews, shadow people at their jobs, or do volunteer work. When you’re ready, making the transition might involve accepting a part-time job for a period of time. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and don’t be intimidated or misled by these career myths.

Moira Kelley is a senior career counselor in UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. Contact her at moira.kelley@wisc.edu. This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.