Work Your Career, Not Your Job

So many professionals these days think their life has to be dominated by their job and that they must give every ounce of their being in order to be successful. I’m here to tell you that’s just not true! It’s unhealthy. It’s risky. It’s sad. It’s dangerous.

When you devote your life 24/7 to your job – answering emails at all hours of the night, working through vacations or cancelling them altogether, waking up in the middle of the night thinking about tomorrow’s meeting – you are guaranteed to be disappointed and feel like you’ve wasted much of your life at some point in the future.

And you’re setting up your future to look just like the hectic, all consuming life you’re living now.

While it’s not worth it to work your job around the clock, working your career is a different story. Many people live fulfilling, successful lives because they have chosen a career that lights them up and that they are thrilled to throw their lives into.

So, what’s the difference? A job is transient. It is something that can (and will) ditch you at the first sign of something better or when the going gets tough. It is something that you can (and should) devote yourself to strategically, but not forever and certainly not at all costs. A series of jobs will likely make up the bulk of your career, but not all of it, and never just one.

When you devote your life to a job with the idea of promotion and advancement, you can tend to forget that your career is bigger than that one job. And, as I said before, it is highly likely that a job will let you go for one reason or another – bankruptcy, a merger or acquisition, a downturn in your market. It won’t always be about you, but I can almost guarantee it will happen. When it does, if you’ve devoted your entire life to your job, you feel lost. Everything you’ve worked for is gone. Your identity has shattered and you’re not sure what to do or where to go.

Enter: Your Career

Your career is way bigger and better to you than any job will ever be. Your career aggregates all of your disparate jobs and compiles them into a coherent story that helps you make sense to others. Your career is a large part of who you are and only you can have your career.

When you focus on your career, rather than your job, you focus on the big picture. You keep your long term goals in mind and are constantly moving toward them, acquiring the necessary skills and developing a network to support them.

Focusing on your career requires you to make contacts outside of your job. It requires you to take on activities outside of your job even though they might not help you advance at your current job, and at times, might conflict with your job. When you focus on your career, you think big picture and long term and when either the job decides it’s time for you to go or you decide the job isn’t working for you, you move on in the spirit of progressing your career.

One way to work your career is to identify organizations that you’d like to support and start volunteering for them. Use your volunteer work to develop new skills, meet new people and re-shift your focus to the vast amount of opportunities “out there.” Volunteering can include serving on a board, helping to plan a key event or taking a job that needs to get done and running with it and making it yours. Through volunteering outside of your job, you will learn more about yourself – what you’re great at, what you enjoy doing, what you’re terrible at and what you hate doing – and can incorporate that into your long term career strategy as you envision your future.

When you land a job that supports you and that you feel good talking to others about, it can be tempting to isolate yourself there and get wrapped up entirely in the new job. It is imperative to tend to your interests and network outside of your job so you keep developing your career. Focusing on your career will not only make you happier in the long run, but will also serve as your risk mitigation strategy should that bright, shiny new job start to lose it’s shine a few years in.

Have you found yourself focusing on your job as you sacrifice your career? What strategies have helped you get your career back on track? Leave tips in the comments!

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