Your Career Doesn’t Have To Be — And Shouldn’t Be — All On You

Plus, why the script for your future career isn't set in stone. / Shutterstock / Shutterstock

“It’s my career. Only I can decide what to do next and make it succeed.”

Everyone says it’s only you who has the answers and you must “make it” on your own steam. They’re wrong. You don’t. You don’t even have to know the answers.

Danger lies in the dysfunctional belief that it’s all on you and you alone. In fact, trying to design career-life synergy in a secret silo is precisely how we become our own worst enemy. It compels you to do what you’ve done before – and makes this feel like your only pathway.

This leaves no room for a redesign, which allows you to realign what you do with what makes you feel alive and what is infused with meaning for you. Or, the career-life picture you wish you could move into.

There are a couple of reasons flying solo can’t take you where you want to go next.

1) While this belief seems reasonable, it’s dangerous.

If you’re the solo architect of your career vision, you design your career trajectory and heroically build it yourself. The emphasis all being on you. Your idea and your unwavering drive.

This puts you in complete control, which sounds empowering but doesn’t account for…you know, the world, life, and everything going on around us. Which isn’t static and impacts every one of us in our own way. In other words, we evolve and what matters most shifts as we do.

2) The script for our future career isn’t set in stone.

The idea that whatever we gain early experience in – whether from education or a successful career-building chapter – somehow determines what we will do for the rest of our lives is yet another myth. Over 70% of graduates don’t work in a career related to their education in the end.

But seasoned professionals get entrenched in the idea that we should follow our younger self’s direction. We think that’s where our value lies by now, right? Wrong! In fact, that false logic is stopping these seasoned professionals from realigning the career-life they really want.

Because they’re stuck thinking of succeeding as one highly specific thing. And change can’t happen without our permission and some striving.

Life and careers can’t be perfectly planned. The task of redesigning work you love and aligning it with what matters most to you today is not optimized for anyone in isolation. The process relies on the contribution of trusted others who can:

  1. Illuminate what stands out about you as a professional operator.
  2. Reflect back to you what makes you light up, and brainstorm ways to do more of that, starting where you are now.
  3. Show you links between the way you feel and how you act – or what stands in your way at times.
  4. Be encouraging, but also hold you accountable once it’s time to stop thinking about it and start doing something.
  5. Remind you that imperfect action counts. That’s how we pick up learnings and the redesign gets tighter.

In other words, career-life synergy is best co-created. Aim for collaboration with trusted others so you benefit from more objectivity and accountability than is possible when you consider yourself on your own.

Especially if you’re feeling stuck. And frustrated by that.

Here’s a brief story of a seasoned operator who always knew she wanted to be in the orbit of the sustainability and environmental issues in her work. She became an accountant because her family had encouraged this admirable and “safe” direction – and she was good at it.

But she hankered for that missing environmental piece and wanted to orient around people more. She engineered her way into the charity sector, which helped. Except that her value there was in the financial planning, and she got increasingly frustrated with not being heard when she tried to have a broader impact.

Then the leadership landscape changed. And her ideas were implemented. Without her being part of it. The career context had become untenable. She didn’t know what came next. That was okay; surely she would with a year off to recover and reflect.

I met this client at the end of that year of thinking.

With some fresh input and the benefit of the collaboration that comes with coaching, she has since curated a portfolio career of non-exec directorships. Where the respective boards are all aligned with environmental and social causes, inviting this committed careerist to have a seat at their table because they each value her contribution – because she has found a way to explain that her competencies blend with her calling to make a difference.

This is not the end of her story. Because there is no single destination for career-life synergy. But it is the next chapter and beautifully congruent. Just like her, you can deliver growth and evolution where you were stuck before – as long as you don’t try to do it all on your own.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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