Why we shouldn’t be afraid to change our mind – in both careers and politics

By Jim Bright

Sticking to our guns in our careers is not necessarily a sensible strategy. Sometimes the wisest course of action is to change tack.

Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been put through the wringer for breaking a promise about tax cuts. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of this issue, I will note that he is not the first, and I very much doubt he will be the last politician accused of breaking their promises.

There is nothing inherently wrong in simply changing our minds.
There is nothing inherently wrong in simply changing our minds.Credit: Simon Letch

However, it is wrong to conclude that breaking promises is the exclusive preserve of the elected classes. We all do it, and do it all the time. We do it not because we are necessarily nefarious, or out to trick others. Most of the time we break our promises because circumstances have connived to make it foolhardy, ill-advised or even impossible to stick to our word.

Things change. We change. There is nothing inherently wrong in simply changing our minds. Indeed, the person who ploughs on in silence while inwardly doubting the wisdom of their course is apt to do more damage than the person who expresses their concerns and tacks away from the rocks, to safer waters.

Holding rigidly to a career plan or promise may result in missing out on better opportunities, or simply avoiding the misery of pursuing something half-heartedly. Over the years I have seen enough examples of people who promised to pursue a particular career path because they had promised a parent or partner they would. I’ve seen others whose promise was a bargain with themselves. In both cases, for some, it led to misery, frustration, guilt and failure.

The reason is career paths rarely unfold as straight lines, with a predictable past, present and future. For the majority, there are all kinds of twists and turns. Decisions made that had unexpected outcomes, opportunities taken and lost. Assumptions made about everything from the fidelity of partners, colleagues and friends, to the economy playing nice and paving our way with rich rewards.

Expecting people to be consistent is to make a payment demand that the universe cannot cash.

Promising what you’ll be doing in five years is no different to promising you won’t get injured or ill. It is no more than wishful thinking. No matter how safe a driver you are, or how often you’ve crossed that road, you can’t control the inattentive, incompetent or immature driver who saw you too late or not at all.

Short of staying at home in lockdown behind a mask, you cannot guarantee you won’t fall prey to a virus, and being in splendid isolation may raise the risks of a mental illness instead.

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We impose upon each generation the myth of the linear career. We encourage people to believe that with some thought and application their career trajectory will be an ever upward line.

Lines provide comfort. If we grossly oversimplify our past into a narrative with a linear thread, then we can turn from the past to face the future and project the line off into the clouds. For many, it is comforting to know where we are going, even when we can never be entirely sure. The trouble is careers are rarely linear and predictable, and nor are people.

However much we dream, or are tempted into soothing predictions, things happen. Events influence or even force our hand to do things we hadn’t predicted. Possibilities emerge beyond our wildest dreams, and dreams are sometimes crushed beyond our deepest fears.

Expecting people to be consistent is to pay demand that the universe cannot cash. The key is to appreciate that lines (and predictability) are mere approximations, and that we must be skilled and ready to adapt to the curves and kinks.

Which is why the hoo-ha about Albanese’s so-called broken promise on income tax is such nonsense. Things in life and therefore careers change. Get used to it.

Dr Jim Bright FAPS owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy, and is director of evidence & impact at BECOME Education an Ed Tech start-up www.become.education. Email to [email protected]. Follow him on X @DrJimBright

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