When you think about your career, how do you define it? What do you mean when you think about your “career?”
The traditional definition of a career is “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” This definition restricts your focus to jobs that can be considered formal occupations, and as you will see in a minute, this is quite limiting.
Before we get there, though, note that although this definition includes no mention of money or remuneration in exchange for labor, if you check out the definition of an “occupation,” you’ll find it defined as a “profession” which in turn is defined as “a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.”
The bottom line, then, is that the traditional definition of a career equates work with labor in exchange for money. This equation creates a number of problems when it comes to managing your career effectively throughout the course of your life.
- If you don’t make much money in your work or you find yourself unemployed, then you may tend to undervalue the work you have done or can do, which in turn invites others to do the same. If you’ve ever been unemployed, you already know exactly what this is like.
- Focusing only on how much money a particular job or profession pays tends to limit your career choices. It may also lead you away from selecting work that you long to do but believe is insufficient to pay your bills. You probably know someone who was directed away from a career that authority figures said would never pay and ended up with a less meaningful work life as a result.
- You may feel shame or embarrassment if you judge your current or past “career” to be less important than that of others. Unfortunately, it’s very common to disparage lower-paying jobs in spite of the fact that they be quite important. Consider child care workers, for example. These folks don’t earn high wages, yet the job they do is critical to the families they serve and society as a whole.
- You may think your value as a person equals the salary you’re earning. As a Career Coach I cringe when I hear a client say she or he wants to “make the money I’m worth.” While everyone deserves to make a fair wage in compensation for their work, is it really possible for any human to earn the amount they are truly worth?
- This focus on money denigrates part-time, contract, and volunteer work despite the fact that these kinds of employment situations may offer you or others great value. Since the start of the Great Recession, many people have found it necessary to blend some combination of part-time or contract work together in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Why is this a bad thing?
- This definition ignores work that does not require “prolonged training and a formal qualification.” There certainly is such a thing as valuable work that does not require extensive training or any formal qualifications. While education can be enormously helpful in accessing certain career fields, that doesn’t mean that work with fewer qualifications is somehow less important.
- The work-for-money trap forces you to focus on the importance of progressing up the career ladder and can easily spiral into a constant search for more money, more responsibility, and more power. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, this pursuit can be harmful if it causes you to overlook other aspects of life that you value.
Allow me to offer you an alternative definition of a career that solves all of these issues:
Your career is the sum total of your personal contributions to the world over the course of your lifetime. In other words, your career is all that you have done or will yet do to provide goods, services, or benefit to others. Thus, your career includes all of your paid, unpaid, volunteer, full-time, part-time, and self-employed efforts throughout your life.
- Invites you to see your life’s work as an evolution and encompasses every type of paid or unpaid work you have ever done or ever will do. It unifies your lifetime of labors.
- Refocuses attention on the impacts of your work rather than how much money you make. If you’re making a difference in the work you do or contributing something that the world needs, is not this important even though the salary you make may not totally reflect the value of what you achieve?
- Embraces all of your work experiences, including those transition jobs you’ve held and periods of time when you’ve worked inside the home. It’s important to recognize that your stay-at-home parent days, your caretaking roles, and your volunteer work are all just as important as your paid work.
- Enables you to perceive patterns in your work choices life-long which encourages you to make more holistic decisions going forward. Perhaps you really enjoyed the volunteer work you did many years ago and would like to return to it in your retirement years or maybe even perform this work on a paid basis. Or perhaps your past work has taught you skills which you would now like to pursue on a volunteer basis.
How does this alternative “career” definition impact your perspective of your work life?
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