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!
The 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.
The separate-and-not-necessarily-equal 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.
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.
Personally … 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]
Check out more career definitions!