Sunday, November 25, 2007

What is a Career?

In my practice as a coach, I often work with coachees who decry that 1) they want a career, 2) they have no career, or 3) their career is broken. I usually challenge these statements by asking them to 1) define what a career is and 2) examine why they think their career is non-existent or broken, then 3) what their career, existing or fixed, would look like. This is important because I want to suggest that any of us who are living have embarked upon a career (so that we all that have one). The question then is whether we can shape our careers to be more productive, if not satisfying to us.

A quick look at shows that a career is 1) an occupation or profession requiring special training which one follows as their life's work, and 2) a person's progress or general course of action through life. I think we might all agree that when we talk about a career, we are talking about an endeavor where there is potential for growth, both reputationally, financially and experientially. I think you will agree that few things in life rob of this opportunity if we approach them with the right "spirit" and "attitude".

We are all working on a career everyday because everyday we interact in our families and society, we are developing skills, experiences and relationships, influencing and contributing to outcomes, and making progress in some area(s) of special training that is indeed our life's work. Again, one cannot avoid having a career. One can only choose what type career they will produce in their liftime.

That said, I want to encourage anyone who bemoans not having a career to give up that illusion and embrace the question of how productive their career can be. I also want to encourage this same person not to mistake a career with present difficult situations and people, degrees of failure (learning), self-doubt, discouragement and impatience as unproducive as these are the very best instructors and courses in our progress towards a productive career. I see this after many years in my career. I recall that my best mentors were giving me this advice all along and, today, continue to get the best satisfaction in life from reflecting on how I have matured, become empowered and productive as a result of the difficulties of my career.

As you move forward to repoint your "present" career towards a more productive end, I offer a few suggestions I give to one of my coachees with whom I recently worked on this question.

1. Acknowledge that you have a career already, that you have been on the road all along, and that you, are merely at this time, taking it to its next logical level. This is empowering and necessary. The fact that you have not accomplished what you wanted by now does not mean you have not accomplished anything. Take stock of what you have and commit to building on that.

2. Understand that nothing is wasted and that all you have experienced, whether you call it failure, stalling or learning, is preparing you for where you are going. There are not successful people who have not been where you are. I recommend the reading of biographies of accomplished people so that you can see this.

3. Eliminate "cannot" from your vocabulary and thinking. Replace it with "have not" and/or "will not".

4. In the areas of your interest, research and immerse yourself in everything you can in the area so that you begin to become an expert and aware of the key issues and players in the space. I recommend you invest in an iPod as a learning tool because you can listen to books and articles at times when your eyes are not free to read. I recommend your looking at sites like,,, (for pod and video casts), (for audio books and magazines), (for networking), (to find relevant blogs), relevant bookmarks), (for relevant videos), etc..

5. As you become knowledgable and expert in your chosen area, begin to connect and network with people in these spaces to understand what the needs are. As you understand what these needs are, analyze where you can contribute your talent, knowledge, insight and network. Your developed expertise and networking will create the conditions for your contribution and contributions are what careers are made of.

6. Develop a tolerance for the feeling of being an "impostor" and do not be stopped by it. Every new role and endeavor makes us an impostor until we get used to it.

7. Adopt a network of people (starting with me) who believe in you and your dream and who will encourage you and hold you accountable. We get little done in life without the support of a community. You can make it, but not alone.

Congratulations on your audactiy. Remember that "the day you decide is your lucky day". :-)

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