Here we are on a career blog where I talk all the time about career change and career transition. And lots of related or even tangential stuff. And so I figure I can’t have a career dictionary without actually taking a shot at the definition of career itself!
All-in-one career theory
Defining “career” isn’t quite as simple as you might at first think. Some people define career as a progressive pursuit of a certain profession — lawyer, doctor, internet guru 🙂 — allowing for more than one career in a lifetime. Others view it as a giant tapestry where all the different threads woven together tell the story of your career as a whole.
My friend Paul Diamond, an international executive coach and now author, offers his version of the tapestry approach career definition in his book Explore Your Career:
(A career is…) the period that spans all the working years of our life. A career can go through many changes but we only get one. Everything we experience while we work takes place under the umbrella of our career.
Seeing your career as a single entity allows you to interpret your relationship with work at a personal level. Exploring your individual relationship with work — especially through your values, talents and goals — gives you every chance of making it a success.
Separate & evolving career theory
No matter what you definition of career, I strongly recommend finding a way to weave your work experience into a good career story. At least the last ten years or so if you are past the early stages. And if you can weave it all into one cohesive story … great!
But I also see validity in defining a lifetime of work as having several careers. I mean, why not?
Of course, there was once a more restrictive time when we had one and only one career. And if it didn’t work out, you basically crawled into a career failure hole and lived there in disappointment licking your wounds (and ego). While also feeling the all-too-often harsh judgment of family and friends.
Thankfully we are now in a time when we can have more than one career. However you define career. And not changing with the times, stuck in the same boring job routines, can even work against you. Even small shifts can bring welcome change for you and your career.
It’s how you tell a career story
And we can also tell the story of career change in a way where we seem dynamic and able-to-conquer new worlds rather than the harder-to-sell “gee that didn’t work out so I guess I’ll try this.” Not that there aren’t ways to tell that story too. How you tell it — and maybe even more importantly how you yourself feel about it — can make all the difference.
Whether your definition of career is a unified tapestry or individual portraits all starring you, I think as long as you feel called by it, it’s a career worth pursuing. And sometimes that pursuit leads you to places you never imagined!
[Article updated in 2020]