A Critique About Careers

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In my book, Business Rules – The Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords, I address the subject of careers rather bluntly:

Your “career” is a concept that exists largely in your own mind.

People spend a lot of time worrying about their career.  But what is a career?  It is a concept that each of us holds dear.  It is the belief that the string of positions and roles you have held in your working life somehow stitch together to weave a story of progression and advancement.  Employees like to believe there is a pattern associated with the jobs they have held, but that is something they alone believe in.

Despite this, for many people their career is the most important thing in their lives.  Such individuals spend a lot of their day focused on something that is, for the most part, imaginary.

In reality, you have a job.  You will have a different job someday.  Those two jobs may or may not be related.  If they are, it is probably only in your mind.  That is where your career exists, between your ears.

I have had a few people comment that they struggle with this concept.  That is because for generations in the business world you actually had a career, and that your job is a stepping-stone along a long wonderful journey filled with unicorns, rainbows, and Golden Parachutes.  The truth of the matter is, you have a job.

Think back when you were in college and thinking about where you’d be working and what you’d be doing…are you doing it?  I can’t speak for you, but where I am working and what I am doing is not at all what I expected when I left school.  I didn’t choose this current job, in some respects I had it thrust upon me.  I’ve adapted in order to survive.  Many people do.  This is not something I planned as a stepping-stone to some grandiose major role in some fictitious company that exists only in my mind.  Like many people, I am in a job because at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do and that it might be fun.  I don’t have any illusions about my relationship with my employer.  They don’t owe me a career and I no longer expect them, or anyone else, to provide me with that fantasy concept.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have goals.  But the concept of a career is a fading icon of the American Dream.  Most organizations don’t want you to stick around and be part of their journey.  Fresh talent off the street costs much less than someone who has been around for a decade or so.  They need you to fulfill a task or goal, but will drop you in heartbeat the moment you no longer provide the value equal to your paycheck.  Companies moved away from keeping long-term employees a while ago.  In the US, 401k programs killed almost every corrupt pension program out there.  Your retirement, over the course of ten years, became your responsibility.  Companies no longer had to furnish long-term careers.  Employees became commodities which could be cut loose at a moment’s notice.  At almost the same time as the rise of 401K’s, came the stripping down of the Human Resources departments, shedding them of their authority to speak on behalf of employees.

I’m not saying this is bad or good, it just the way things are now.

That isn’t to say that you should not have some sort of plan for where you are working and where you want to work next …you should have at least a few ideas in mind as to what is next for you.  Realistically you have to do this.  If you think your organization is going to take care of you, that someone will coddle and mentor you and ensure your growth is along a secured path – well, it’s time for you to submit for your drug test.  This happens out there, but it’s pretty damn rare.

I hate the line most companies now use, “You own your own career.”  You only own it as much as they allow it and as long as it fits their whims.  In other words, all you own is the knowledge of where your frustration level is before you move on to the next job.  THAT is something you do own.

Want to read more?  Pick up my book.

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3 thoughts on “A Critique About Careers

  1. Charlie

    Thanks, got it and started reading it. As I was reading, I have to say that people came to mind as candidates for many of the rules you discussed. Sadly, more so in a negative light than in a positive one.

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