A woman thought she’d become an attorney but reconsidered after failing the LSATs—twice. After a brief stint at Walt Disney World, she then spent seven years selling fax machines door-to-door, occasionally working as a stand-up comedian. She knew she was good at sales, but wanted to sell something that she created and cared about. That woman—Sara Blakely—eventually founded the global brand Spanx to help women feel great and see their potential.
A young man immigrated to the United States from Belarus with his family. Growing up, he had very little. He couldn’t speak the language, and his grades were poor. He was bullied and picked on in school and told he would never amount to anything. Yet today, that same man—Gary Vaynerchuk, chairman of VaynerX and CEO of VaynerMedia—says those challenges allowed him to reverse-engineer his success, seeing opportunity where others did not.
These stories aren’t limited to famous entrepreneurs. As a child, his parents told my father that he should become an engineer, a respectable profession with assured job prospects. The only problem? My dad didn’t really want to do that and wasn’t great at the advanced math required. But he found a way around that, landing a job in sales with an engineering firm in which he earned promotion after promotion as the top salesperson. That’s when he shocked everyone and decided to go to law school at night.
At the time, he and my mom had two little kids at home and a third on the way. He passed the bar exam on his first try, quit the cushy sales job, and opened up a practice with a buddy from school, which thrived until he retired from it a few years ago.
The one thing Vaynerchuk, Blakely, and my dad share is the ability to adopt an often unpopular—or contrarian—perspective and make it work for them. In a career sense, it means they’re not conforming to conventional or practical approaches, education, or paths and instead of seeking alternative means to career fulfillment. Said another way, they’re “career contrarians.”
Here are six ways you can embrace being one too.
1. Realize that there is more than one path to success—and it’s probably non-linear.
While there’s nothing wrong with a more traditional career approach, it’s by no means the only way. Shift your mindset to move past any preconceived notion of what you “should” be doing, and congratulate yourself on having the courage to create a new path—one that is uniquely yours.
And if the idea of making a career shift makes you nervous, take heart. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person changes jobs an average of 12 times during their career.
2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable—even, and especially, when you fail.
Here’s a simple truth: If you’re afraid to fail, you’ll never grow. Getting out of your comfort zone means you move past your fear to take risks, some of which may work out for you and some that won’t. And those who fall into the latter camp, says Blakely, are learning opportunities. “Some people would call that time in my life a string of failures. But I believe that failure, in essence, is just life’s way of nudging you and letting you know you’re off course.”
3. Trust your gut.
My dad tells me that many of his career decisions were driven by instinct and a belief in himself. Though arguably, he could have made his life easier by remaining in a job he had mastered, my dad felt that he could—and needed to—do more.
Vaynerchuck also admits making most of his business decisions on gut instinct and intuition. “The bottom line really is this: you have to take chances and put yourself out there, and you’re not always going to have the data to back it up. Period. Not every decision is going to be safe. And that’s okay. Life is about those decisions. The more you make, the more options you have. The more options you have, the more you grow.”
4. Play the long game.
Success rarely happens overnight, and Vaynerchuk says that too many people today lack patience in business. “I push patience because I know life is long. Everybody around here is running around like it’s not. Twenty-four-year-olds [are] running around like it ends tomorrow. Like they need it now. What’s wrong with being 26 or 41 or 73?”
Equally important, says Vaynerchuk, is having the clarity and discipline on your desired outcome: “If you’re single-mindedly focused on your long-term goal, you’ll be more effective in the short term and get there faster.”
5. Eliminate the negative self-talk.
It’s a common misconception that successful “career contrarians” are more confident and capable than the average person. Not true, says Blakely, who admits that she still struggles with doubt and fear, and claims the number one barrier that holds people back from fully realizing their potential is negative self-talk.
When you find yourself wallowing in a self-defeating phrase such as “I don’t know how to do that,” try reframing it into something more positive. A simple way to do that? Try adding the word “yet” to its end, suggesting Neil Pasricha, author of You are Awesome.
6. Consider that taking an alternative path may inspire someone else to do it, as well.
The journey of a career contrarian can often undergo intense scrutiny. But this attention isn’t always a bad thing. When you have the courage to use your varied experience, approach, and education to forge a unique professional path and find fulfillment in the process, you demonstrate to others that they can do it as well.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Amy Blaschka’s Forbes page.