You are the President of Your Career

people working This year is slated to be tricky. If you’re an employee, it’s tough because your budget was just cut. It’s tough because some people were just laid off. It’s tough because you’re going to have to do more with what little you have. They want more from you. Oh, and were you thinking about your career as if it were something moving up and to the right? Uh, no.

The thing is, there really never was a career path for you. That was something for your dad, or you about four careers ago. But those paths are gone. There’s not really even an indent any more where they were left. So, let’s just level with you now: congratulations. You’re the president of your career.

What Businesses and Organizations Want

Here’s a secret, and hopefully this will really help. Businesses (and we can apply this to nonprofits and other organizations, too) want to do what it takes to achieve their mission. In most cases, this is simple: make more money than it spends. In non-profits and other organizations, the goals are slightly different, but you get the gist. Essentially, do your job with the least amount of friction, and get out, and go home.

Variation on the Theme: Self-Employment

You might work for yourself. Rejoice. It’s a tricky year to be doing this. You’ve got to justify yourself to your clients, and if not, you’ve got to deal with the reduction in what people can pay you. You might even be rethinking what comes next.

(By the way, if this is not so, just stop reading. Congrats. You’re doing a great job. Go out and play for 2 hours.)

In All Cases, Here’s What’s Next

You need to take over the role of president of your career. If you’re solo or an employee, this is relatively the same advice: you’ve got to take a look into the entire package of of you as a business, you as a presence, you as a developing “property.” Here are some considerations for the situation you’ve just inherited:

  • Because people just want you to do your job, assume that most people don’t care about your personal development or what goes into how you do what you do.
  • Understand that just doing what you’ve been doing won’t really work for more than a handful of months, because everything around you is changing. If you don’t change, you’ll fall behind.
  • Accept that you have to invest in yourself, and that just waiting around for others to think about your career or invest in it isn’t really going to net you much.

A Simple Prescription

For your career, I recommend that you build your future around a model something like this:

  • Practice making the work you perform reliable, remarkable, and tied to whatever your “client” considers important. That sounds easy, but as yourself whether this is true of what you’re doing. If not, is it really the right business relationship?
  • If the wave of thoughts that just flooded your head involved all the difficulties in shifting roles, ask yourself whether those very thoughts are what have held you in your current role for as long as you’ve been there. Ask yourself if you think you’re only worth a 3% annual raise (or x dollars an hour).
  • If you are not building small powerful networks of some kind, get started. Now. Nothing is a solo sport any longer. Even if you’re the only gunslinger in town, sign up for the gunslinger social network and get to know how others are doing their job. Interesting perspective on this by John Chow, actually. Read the whole piece.
  • Set your own goals in front of yourself. Make them SMART goals. (Half of you rolled your eyes because you’ve heard this. The others are waiting). SMART stands for “Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.” (See more here or even better, here). Don’t say, “I want to make more money in 2009.” Say, “I want to book 10% more business in Q1, 15% in Q2, and make 30% overall more income by the end of 2009.”
  • Chunking goals up is even better. Wanting to build a better proposal template by mid-January and then wanting to book 5 new clients using that form by March is better than putting the whole thing together in one form.
  • Going back to school isn’t always the answer. But sometimes it is. Think long and hard if you’re going back to school simply because you don’t know what else to do. There are lots of ways to train into new skills that don’t involve going back to school. School is a great place to learn what was relevant five years ago. Things are moving much faster than that. Do you really think it will upgrade your career? (Waiting to hear from my higher ed friends on this one).
  • Instead, read. Learn. Absorb. Try things out. If you haven’t created a “lab” for your ideas, for your opportunity to try things out, get started.
  • If your self-esteem is still an issue, and you haven’t bought and read Self-Esteem by Dr Matthew McKay, stop what you’re doing and buy the book. It changed my life. It probably could help you, too. (Faith helps, but that’s not my department. That’s his).
  • Learn the basics of these functions: sales, marketing, project management, journalism, and law. Even understanding some of the basic premises behind those types of roles and job functions will help you better understand how to function within an organization. I wasn’t the best engineer in my company. I was the engineer who could talk plainly about technology to the senior team. Made a world of difference.

Your Mileage Will Vary

There are lots of reasons to be negative. You have plenty of opportunities to find reasons why none of the above will work for you. You can pile excuses up, one on top of the other, for every reason why you’re stuck where you are. Gandhi said this: that we all have the same number of hours in the day, and it’s how we choose to use them that matters.

I choose to use mine improving on the futures of those around me.

Congratulations. You’re the president of your career. What’s your next move?

Photo credit Bobster1985

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