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
The definition of 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 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 how you define 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. But thankfully we are now in a time when not only can we have more than one career, but we can 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 you define career as 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.
NOTE: If you want to suggest changes to this or any other definition in our career dictionary, please feel free to add your suggestions in a comment.