How did I find my career path?

I'm a consultant who designs and facilitates public participation initiatives for local governments across Western Canada. How did getting a master’s degree in criminology and working in a locked residential youth psychiatric centre at 25 eventually lead to my career? How did spending 12 years working on environmental and social welfare initiatives across Southeast Asia figure in that career path? And how does a decade of ecological activism and five years of training medical students to work in challenging community settings figure in?

Contribute to a larger social good

Yes, I am old, but that's not actually my point. I'd suggest that needing to make a contribution to a larger social good or cause has been the central thread and passion of my career, even though the subject matter or focus has varied wildly. There is a lesson there for you.

Develop your communication and collaboration skills

Another advantage is the fact that I'm a generalist: I work well with specialists and lay people of all kinds on multi-departmental or multi-agency initiatives. Early on, I learned that being able to communicate effectively, coordinate others' work, support specialists in a shared objective, and manage behind the scenes in support of my brilliant older colleagues were great contributions. So my suggestion for you is to follow a passionate interest (or five) while consciously developing your communication and collaboration skills alongside specialist training that suits your interest best.

Balance breadth and flexibility with depth and focus

Also, given the world we live in, don't lock down on too narrow a definition of what you can or will do in the future—balance breadth and flexibility in skills and topics of interest with depth and focus that will emerge unpredictably as you go.

In closing, I could never have predicted that I would be doing the work I do now, but I love it. You really can't know where exactly your career path will take you—so be prepared to flex and grow along the way. And try to enjoy the little bit of chaos that will creep in no matter what.

About the author

Vince Verlaan is a community and stakeholder engagement specialist, participatory planner, workshop and process designer and facilitator, and educator with more than 20 years of experience. As principal of Modus Planning, Design and Engagement, he works across many sectors, but the core practice is the design and facilitation of "strong engagement" initiatives with and for local and regional governments, crown corporations, community groups, universities and progressive private companies.

Take a class with Vince Verlaan