While seldom do two career paths end identically, there is certainly something to be said for looking at the career paths of others and using them as a map for your own career possibilities.
Up until recently it was hard to see the career paths of others who have the same educational background or experience. The sphere of visibility many times stopped at the exterior walls of your company or companies where you previously worked. It was hard to gain any advantage of pattern recognition with such a small sample size.
As transparency has become more and more the norm, each of us are getting the Internet’s advantage which allows us to easily share information with other people, most of whom we will never know. This week LinkedIn announced they are using their database of experienced people and sharing the information with college age users so they can see possible career paths. What is great about this is that these career paths are numerous and validated by lots of people who have gone through a similar career experience.
However, it would not be a good idea to think of a career path as a linear route because too many variables will arise that will disrupt the straight line or throw up barriers and detours. However, think about a career path as a subway map. Like a subway ride, you will get from point A (today) to point B (end of your career) but you will likely change trains, go out of the way for a little while, have to wait at a station or two for the next train, and sometimes sit in the heat, cold or the dark while the train is stalled or waiting for another train to pass or get out of the way. Even so, like it is valuable to study a map before going somewhere unknown (even Google Maps or MapQuest are not perfect), the same can be said for studying the career paths of others to see if you recognize patterns applicable to you, or for when you feel lost, you can see how someone else found their way forward.