Your every-day job is where you earn your money. But when you are ready to advance you need to structure a career.
When you have a job, you’re working to earn money. Your expectations are likely not to be very high, and the prospects you have for the future are going to be in a different job or even industry. Seasonal jobs definitely fall into this category, and any job we have as teenagers. They are like stopgaps – we just do them because we need money but we don’t particularly like them or expect to advance in them.
A career on the other hand is like a contract you make with yourself. You have found an expertise you want to develop, an industry you are a part of and can visualize yourself in a range of roles within that. You will have an idea of which job will lead to which other job, to finally land you at a comfortable level for your ambition and life choices.
Getting from one to the other, that’s a tricky bit a lot of people are struggling with.
Leaving the “Job” behind
A job is just where you earn money – your expectations here are limited. This means you need to make a decision at some point to cut this job out of your life. Even if you enjoy it, the people are great and the pay is good – it might not be the career you want. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad job, at all.
Plenty people get promoted in their jobs, earn more money and are greatly validated. But they are experiencing this in a passive fashion, taking it as it comes along. When you are the architect of your own career, you need to take an active stance in your professional life.
Understanding that you will be leaving this job is a change you need to make. Rather than seeing an unending number of job days ahead of you, you can make the conscious decision that this is only temporary, and an experience that you will leave behind to start your career.
Beyond doing X to earn money Y, the difference between a job and a career lies in the expectations it has for your life going forward. A job is a transaction of labor, a career is a development path that is leading you somewhere. Understanding that you want to end up somewhere is the next step.
So to leave the “Job” behind, think about what it is you want to achieve in life. Think big, think brave!
I’ve made a previous post on an exercise that you can use to draw your career like a map. Do you want to be a public speaker, changing the world with thought leadership? Do you want to be the CEO of a multinational company? Do you want to be the leader of your own company? Do you want to travel the world to advise members of the board in a specific industry?
Consider what skills you have, and imagine the ultimate path they could lead you on, to your career apex.
This doesn’t mean that your plans won’t change, or you won’t find new exciting opportunities, but it sets a launch platform for you to mentally prepare for this period in your life. Once you have a goal, you can start making the needed plans and changes to achieve it.
A third change to make is to embrace change and uncertainty. Careers are upwards changes, and as you go up the pyramid the lanes become increasingly narrower. Promotions become harder to achieve, your role more stressful and demanding. With less space also comes a greater degree of competition. You’re not always going to achieve what you set out for straight away.
Sometimes you will lose a job and need to re-position. Maybe your priorities in life will change, maybe a company will go bust or you find out that the rules of your industry change as technology and human culture develop over time. Your career may find itself continuing in a different country, so you may be picking up and leaving. Can you bring a significant other with you in this? Can you be without your family around? Be honest with yourself!
If you want to rise to the challenge, you have to accept this, and either plan for eventual setbacks (save money, cultivate networks, keep up to date) or minimize their effects (live small and portable, maintain two lines of expertise or cultivate a second career as a speaker or consultant).
- Accept that you will leave your job and start your career
- Set your sights on a specific goals, and determine how to get there
- Embrace change and prepare for setbacks
Migrating to a “Career”
A career requires a conscious choice, an expertise you cultivate and a goal you will achieve. Once you’ve understood and accepted these things, you can get to work on these steps, one at a time.
Making the decision is one thing, but keeping to it is another. It’s easy to fall back in a pattern where you focus on your job over your career because you need money, your colleagues need you, or your boss asks more of you.
First, make a social contract with yourself. Put it in writing. Pin it on the wall next to your bed so it’s the first thing you see when you wake up. Remind yourself of your goal, and why you want to achieve it. Promise yourself you will. Below it, every time you encounter something distracting you from it, write a reminder of what to avoid.
- “I shouldn’t take 10 hours of overtime because my boss wants it”
- “I should go to a job interview for my new job, even if the work is busy”
- “I should study for the certification I need even if I need to save up for it”
Make sure you list the things that distract or discourage you, and find things to counter them. If stress makes your mind unruly, find what calms you down and put it in writing for yourself. If you cannot trust yourself with your money because you like buying things rather than saving, set up automatic transfers to put money into a savings account as soon as you get it. If you idle your time away with funny youtube videos instead of learning, block youtube for a month.
But also make sure to celebrate your successes and remind yourself of what you’ve already achieved. Don’t stare blindly into the future without celebrating the past.
This comes to the second thing for advancing from job to career: professional maturity.
If you want this, you are solely responsible for making sure it happens. Others can support you, help you, even guide you – but in the end the one who makes the magic happen is yourself. This means you need to be mature and conscientious. You will find things that are distracting you or bothering you, and you will need to find ways to counter them.
A career means to go beyond the simple transaction of the job, and making it your own. It means being proactive in learning all about your expertise and industry so you can are the first person people come to when they want an expert opinion. It means being professional and social, networking with people and participating in relevant fairs and expos. It means showing others what you are capable of, even if you’d be reserved or humble.
In the end, you are your own best HR and Marketing department. Show the world the best you have to offer!
The third thing that will help to transition from a job to a career is to find someone to support you, to listen to you and potentially advise you. We are social creatures and we stay mentally focused and healthy by talking to others and comparing notes. Whether it’s your significant other, a family member, or someone you know from a hobby or activity, having someone to talk to is very valuable.
Not only does it really help to vent frustrations with someone who is not involved, they can often give surprising insights on your situation. Like I often say “you can feel like a frog caught in a well, but someone looking in from above might see the ladder standing right behind you.”
- Make a social contract with yourself to remind you of your achievements
- Become emotionally and professionally mature
- Find someone who will listen to you and supports you in your goals
The Default Network
A very important thing that comes up in recent studies is how our brains have the capacity to seamlessly blend past, present and future in how we think. Something that allows us to time travel mentally, and helps in solving problems.
In a nutshell, when we relax and contemplate past and future, daydreaming if you will, we analyze past experiences and use those to contemplate potential problems in the future and how to solve them. This is a critical skill for us as people – but especially as career people.
Selecting a goal, how to achieve it, and overcome the obstacles on our way – those are the key ingredients in our career plan. That’s how we get from an office administrator to CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. And it seems as if our ability to achieve this is anchored firmly in being in a relaxed state, freely letting our mind wander.
I am telling you this because it can be of great help if what I wrote before in this article fills you with confusion and frustration. If you cannot fathom “what you want to be when you grow up” (how horrible that sentence feels now, doesn’t it) or cannot imagine how to reach such a high position, it might pay to do the following exercise:
Find a place where you’ve never been before. Make sure it’s a peaceful place with few or no people around. Personally, I like to go to a forest. Just put down a chair there, sit down and close your eyes. There’s no need to clear your mind, nor to focus hard on the goal you want to achieve. Just thing about the next step you want to take in your career, and let your mind go from thought to thought, past to future, and daydream.
Imagine yourself in the position you want to achieve, and what you’d act like, look like. Think about what job interview got you there, how you answered the tough questions. Your brain knows what you worry and dream about, so you’re going to see a little bit of everything.
After a couple of minutes, write down what you think is important, maybe drink some coffee or the like, and sit back again.
I look at the trees, the birds flying around, the squirrels gathering food. They don’t care about me and my little problems – they are very focused in the now. But looking at them gives me a great feeling of priorities, and inspires me to think further. To dream what I could do, and prepare for what I secretly worry about.
Beyond preparing to leave a job and preparing to enter a career, letting your default network do the work will get you further than anything else – without cost or judgement.