Career is a Choice – It Doesn’t Happen to You

About a month ago a new twitter friend Deirdre introduced herself to me by asking, “What’s a misconception people have about what a career is?” It’s a question I am asked often and it always sparks a great conversation.

Career is a choice, not a demand.

I try not to lead with this response as it scares some people away, but this is the biggest misconception… followed closely by not understanding the difference between a career and a job. Having a career, is something that you, and only YOU, can work on and pursue.

Career by definition is:

“1. An occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework;         2. A person’s progress or general course of action through life or through a phase of life, as in some profession or undertaking.” (from dictionary.com)

Nowhere in that definition do I see “paycheck,” “security blanket,” or “hell-hole of misery.” No one is forcing you to have a career. A job is something that you show up to everyday to earn a paycheck or a number of other benefits. But a career is something that you choose and build. You can be in the same job for 20 years and still not have a career. It can just be a job to you.

AND THAT’S OK.

Holy bananas people! I’m not sure when we all decided that our big life mission needs to be having a “successful career” at work. It’s not for everyone, which is why there are so many different jobs and career options out there, not to mention the many options outside of work. Here’s a better example. I have a friend who has relentlessly pursued helping others throughout her life by volunteering at various charities and donating her time and efforts. She still has a job as a manager, but her real career is her charity work. That is what she has chosen as her lifework. She’s laid down the building blocks one on top of each other, to represent what she is jazzed by, what she wants to be “known” for.

You decide. You drive this bus. I mean look at me – I have jumped on so many different career paths, I would need a diagram to walk you through them all, and you’d still be perplexed. I kept falling into careers… and none really felt comfortable on me, but I kept going on the career path up. That’s what I thought I had to do. I didn’t know that I could make choices to shape my own career.

I have been talking to many new grads lately, all worried how they are going to land their first job. Many haven’t given much thought to their career experience. What they want their life’s work to be, how they want to get there, the different jobs and skills they will need along the way, and what will ultimately keep them engaged with work and life. That makes sense – they are just starting out ready to conquer the world.

But they aren’t the only ones! A lot of my clients and friends are mid-career, we’ll just say 30s – 40s, and they don’t have an answer either. So many of them are focused on the details of their job. On getting their next promotion. On how much their boss sucks. On how underpaid they are. We’ve all been there (I’m pleading the fifth on this), but these are all symptoms of your JOB.

No one else is thinking about your career. You need to make some decisions.

The difference between job and career is hopefully becoming a bit more clear… but what the heck can you do about it? Glad you asked. It’s time that you started thinking about your career NOW. Especially as we are approaching the new year.

Ask yourself these questions (and write them down!):

  1. When I am so focused and in the zone, I am working on ________________.
  2. What do I see as your current career path? Are you listing out your jobs or an actual career?
  3. Do I want the answer to #2, to be representative of “your life’s work?” If so, fabulous – you’ve got yourself a career.
  4. Have I picked up skills and strengths outside of my main job focus area? Maybe through horizontal moves within a company/department or by job hopping?
  5. Answer this: “Where do I see myself and my career in 5, 10, 15 years?” Are your answers the same or are you struggling with thinking BIGGER than a job/title?

And of course, you’ll need to start taking action – look for part two with action steps soon. I promise it will be worth the wait.