What is your career? Forget about how you define this to others for now, and just think for a bit about how you define your career to yourself. What does it mean to you to have a profession? Is it just your work? Can it be something you are doing to help make a living? Is it what you are doing for money? Is it your work?
Most people would define a profession as more than a job. Above and beyond a job, a career is a long-term pattern of work, usually across multiple jobs. A profession implies professional development to build skill over a period of time, where one moves from novice to expert within a specific field. And lastly, I would argue that a profession needs to be consciously chosen; whether or not others exert influence over you, you must still ultimately choose to become a lawyer or accountant or doctor. Should you decide didn’t make a conscious choice at some point, I would then say you have a job yet not a profession.
One of the difficulties I see plenty of people experiencing lately is that they spend the bulk of the days working at a job that isn’t part of a consciously chosen career. Once you graduate from school and enter into the work force, you don’t suddenly gain the knowledge of what kind of career to build. Most likely you simply focus on getting a job as your first step after school. And you most likely need to make this choice in your early 20s. After a decade or two, you’ve established a pattern of work and built up some expertise. But at what point did you stop and say, what is my career will be?
Sometimes after you ask people what their career is (rather than asking what their job is), the question makes them uncomfortable. Why? Because they think of a career as something intentionally chosen, purposeful, and meaningful, plus they don’t see those qualities in their job. Another possibility is that they feel deep down that their real career lies elsewhere.
Just because you’ve been working in a field for many years does not mean you have to turn that pattern of work into the career. The past is the past. You could possibly continue to run the same pattern and follow that same path into the future, but at any time you’re also free to make a total break with all the past and turn yourself onto a completely new career path into the future. Ask yourself should you decide were starting over from scratch today, fresh away from school, would you still choose the same line of work? If the answer is not a, then you only have a job right now, not a career. Your career lies elsewhere.
I went through this process myself just last year once I asked myself, “What is my career?” I’ve been developing and publishing computer games since 1994. And which was exactly what I needed to do once I was 22 years of age. Game development was the career I had consciously chosen; I didn’t just get into it. It took plenty of strive to start my own company and build it into a successful business. But at age 33, I had to say and stop that I no longer wanted game development to be my career. I still enjoy it, and I may continue doing a little on the side as a hobby for many years, but I no longer think from it as my career.
And yet, once I looked around for just what else I might define as my new career, I was in a quandary. I saw all of the assets I’d built within my game development career… and a long list of goals yet to be accomplished. Needless to say, the real problem was that I was looking to the past and projecting it onto the future. So all I could see in the road ahead was a continuation of the road behind. My solution was to use zero-based thinking… imagining I was starting from scratch again, forgetting the last for a moment, seeing the present moment as something fresh and new that didn’t already have a directional vector assigned to it — it could point in any new direction I gave it.
On top of that I started thinking like this, I also decided to broaden my definition of career. While running my games business, I had been operating with a tremendously 3rd-dimensional view of a profession. It was about success, accomplishment, achievement, making a beneficial living, sales, serving customers, etc. At different times my career was which I was a game programmer, a game developer, or a game publisher. Those were the labels I used.
But whereas these kinds of objectives were very motivating to me when I was within my years, 20s later I discovered them to be much less motivating. Achieving more and succeeding more just wasn’t an adequate amount of a motivator by itself. And I’ve seen others get into the same situation too — those things that motivated them greatly at one point no longer seem all that motivating years later. The motivational strategies that work in your 20s don’t necessarily keep doing work in your 30s.
The solution I discovered would be to look behind the labels and discover the core of my career. Once I looked behind the labels of game programmer, game developer, and game publisher, I saw that the core of my career was entertaining people. That has been the real purpose behind what I was doing. And that is with regards to made sense to me that this was a very motivating purpose for me in my 20s, but that in my 30s it lost its edge because I had grown to the point in my own life where I felt that entertaining people was no longer the most effective way for me to contribute.
Think about this for a moment. What is the core of your career? What do you really contribute? What is the big picture of what you are doing? Should you decide work for a big company, then how do your actions contribute to some larger purpose? Be honest with yourself. And do not ignore the role your company plays in your career; your career depends heavily about what you’re contributing down the line. Should you decide truly assign a noble purpose to what you do, that’s great. For example, if you work on a grocery store, you are inspired of the fact that you help feed people. But don’t force it should you decide don’t actually believe it. Should you decide feel your contribution is weak or even negative, then admit that to yourself, even though you don’t immediately plan to do anything about it.
Go behind the labels. Don’t stop at defining your career as computer programmer or lawyer or doctor. Exactly what are you contributing as a computer programmer? How does your career make a difference in other people’s lives? Is it nothing more than a way for you to make money? As an attorney do you resolve disputes and spread peace, or do you milk conflict for money? As a doctor do you heal people, or are you currently just a legal drug pusher? What is the essence of the career right now?
Now if you have your answer, you next have to inquire about yourself, is this you? Is this truly a career that reflects the best of who you may be as a person?
For example, if you see the real purpose behind your current line of work as making a handful of investors wealthier… nothing more noble than that… then is that an accurate reflection of your best contribution? Is that you?
Should you decide already have a career that accurately reflects the greatest of who you are, that’s wonderful. But if you don’t, then recognize that you’re free to improve it. In case the career as a regional distributor for a major soda manufacturer basically boils right down to pushing sugar water which will make people fatter, you don’t need to keep it by doing this.
I believe if you recognize that your current work doesn’t fit who you are, then chances are you need to make a choice. You must decide should you decide deserve having a profession that truly suits you. Should you decide don’t feel you deserve it, then chances are you will settle for defining your career in such narrow terms as job, money, paycheck, promotion, boss, coworkers, etc. No one is forcing you to accept that as your definition of career.
On the other hand, you could possibly choose to embrace another definition of career that uses terms like purpose, calling, abundance, fulfillment, contribution, meaning, happiness, etc. This requires a top-down approach. You first think hard as to what your purpose we have found… what type of contribution would you like to make with your life? When you finally figure that out, then you work right down to the degree of how to manifest that in terms of the work you do.
As well as for a lot of people, the seeming impossibility of this manifesting part is paralyzing. This will be especially true for men, who usually take their responsibility as breadwinners very seriously. The truth is yourself logically having two choices: I could stay within my current job, which pays the bills and earns me a beneficial living, or I could go jump into something that fits me better, but I simply can’t see how to make money at it. We have a mortgage to pay and a family who varies according to me; I can’t do that to them.
The issue though is thinking that these are truly the only alternatives… thinking that you need to make an option between money and happiness. That assumption is exactly what causes the paralysis against action. You can even envision the third alternative of having happiness and money together. In fact, that’s actually the essential likely outcome. If you don’t currently have a profession that is deeply fulfilling to you personally in the sense that you know you’re contributing in a way that matters, then deep down, you will definitely sabotage yourself from going too far along with it. You will always know that you’re on the wrong path for you, and this is going to slap a demotivating slump over anything you try to do in that line of work. You’ll do your work, but you’ll never feel that you’re really living up to your potential. You’ll always have problems with procrastination and weak motivation, and they’ll never be resolved regardless of how many time management strategies you attempt. Your work will never feel like a really satisfying career — it just can’t grow into that because you’ve planted your career tree in bad soil. You’ll always be stuck with a bonsai.
But when you get your career aligned from top to such, bottom that what you are ultimately contributing is an expression of the greatest of yourself, the funds will come too. You will be enjoying what you are doing a whole lot, and you’ll find your work so fulfilling, that turning it into an income stream won’t be that hard. You will find a way to do so. Making money is not at odds with your greater purpose; they may be able lie regarding the same path. The more money you make, the greater your capability to contribute.
But most importantly you’ll feel you really deserve all the money you earn. When your career is aligned using the best of who you are, you won’t secretly feel that your continued career success means going farther down the wrong path. You won’t hold back anymore. You’ll want to take your career as far as it is possible to because it’s an expression of who you are. And this is going to make you far more receptive to all of the opportunities that are all around you, financial or otherwise.
But how do you make this transition? Is a leap of faith required? Not really. I don’t think of it as a leap of faith. It’s more of a leap of courage, and it is a logical type of courage, not an emotional one. It comes down to making a decision about how important your own personal fulfillment and happiness are to you. Really, how important is it for you to have meaningful, fulfilling work? Can it be OK so that you could continue working at a job that doesn’t allow you to contribute the best of who you are? Should you decide find yourself in such a scenario, then your answer is yes — you’ve made it OK so that you could tolerate this situation.
However you see… self-actualizing individuals who successfully make this leap will at some point conclude that it’s definitely not OK. In fact, it’s intolerable. They wake up and say, “Wait a minute here. This might be absolutely, totally unacceptable for me to be spending the bulk of my time at a job that isn’t a deeply fulfilling career. I can’t keep carrying this out. This ends now.”
These people “wake up” by realizing that what’s most important about a career is the high-level view which includes fulfillment, happiness, and living on purpose. Things like money, success, and achievement are a rather distant second. But when you work from within the first category, the second category takes proper care of itself.
Before you’ve had this awakening, you most likely don’t see how that last sentence is possible. And that’s since you don’t understand it is nothing more than an option. You have got probably chosen to put money above fulfillment in your current line of work. That choice means that you won’t have fulfillment. But it isn’t which you can’t have fulfillment — you could choose to change your act and priorities on them at any time. The real choice you made was not to be fulfilled in your current line of work. You bought into the illusion that money is at odds with fulfillment, and that cash is the more important of the two, in order for is all you see. Regardless of what job you take, you will find this assumption proves true for you.
But after you go through the “waking up” experience and firmly decide to put fulfillment first, you suddenly recognize that being fulfilled AND having plenty of money is also an option that’s available to you. There are countless ways so that you can do both; you simply have to permit yourself to see them. You realize that you were the one who chose EITHER-OR rather than AND, while all the time you were totally free to choose AND when you wanted.
You set the standards for your career choices. Most likely your current standard ranks fulfillment and meaningful contribution very low in comparison to working on interesting tasks and making sufficient money. But those standards are yours to create. At any point you’re free to say, “Having a deeply fulfilling and meaningful career is an absolute MUST in my situation. Working for money alone is merely not an option.” And once you make this conscious choice, you are going to begin seeing the opportunities which fit this new standard. But you’ll never even recognize those opportunities so long as it remains OK so that you could spend all your work time being unfulfilled.
I would like to drive home this point. Having a fulfilling career that earns you a number of money doesn’t require a leap of faith. It only requires an option. You simply have to wake up one day and tell yourself which you deserve both, and which you won’t be satisfied with anything less. It isn’t about choosing the best job. A career isn’t something you will find; it does not require someone to give you something. You aren’t during the mercy of circumstances. A profession is something you create, something you build. It means that the work you do each day is aligned with what you feel to be your purpose. After you start carrying this out variety of work, whether or not for no pay initially, your self-esteem will grow to the point where you’ll become so open and resourceful to new opportunities that you’ll haven’t any trouble making a lot of money from it. However, for those who do so, the funds won’t be that important. It’s going to just be a resource so that you could do more of what you love.
Your daily life is too precious to waste working only for money or for a purpose that doesn’t inspire you. No one could hold you back from making this decision but you. Especially don’t hide behind your family’s needs. In the event your family truly loves you, then they need one to be fulfilled and living on purpose far more than anything else. And if you love them, then isn’t your greatest role to serve as a model to them of how to be happy? What would you want for your own children for their careers? And do you want the same for yourself?