Why We Need a New Definition of Career

career May 26, 2021
Mature woman working remotely

What comes to mind when you hear the word "career?" What comes to mind about your own career?

The traditional definition of a career is “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” This definition is outdated and reminiscent of the days when you landed a job and stayed there until you retired. In my opinion, the economic crash in the 1980s marked the end of this traditional idea of a career. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic redefined our ideas of a traditional career and traditional work hours, the work environment, and the future of work.

Merriam-Webster's definition is "a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling," which reflects a more modern take on the definition of career. However, the idea of a "permanent calling" still implies a singular path to the work we do in the world.

A new definition

My definition is much more simplistic. I define a career as "the work you're meant to do in the world." That's why I don't often call myself a career coach but rather a career strategist. Today you can have a "career" as an entrepreneur or employee. Your training for your "career" can be formal or self-taught. It's not about having a job for an extended period of time; it's about where and how you apply your strengths, skills, talents, gifts, and abilities. 

Gig economy workers have also changed the way we think about careers. Gig work consists of freelance workers earning income outside of the traditional employer-employee relationships. The pandemic emphasized the need to have multiple income streams and not be dependent upon an employer or industry to sustain you through retirement.

The analogy I like to use a bag of marbles and a sandbox. Under the old definition, you would get educated and trained (your marbles) and then proceed to find the one sandbox in which you'd play with your marbles for a significant amount of time until you quit or retired. Under my definition, you'd take your life experiences, education, skills, etc. (your marbles), and look for a variety of sandboxes that fit your values, passion, and purpose, and use your marbles to serve for as long as you wanted and it served your purpose. 

Why a new definition

Along with a more expansive definition of career (to include entrepreneurs and business owners), I believe my new definition also does away with, what I call, the "time for money" equation that's implied in traditional employment relationships.

The "time for money" equation doesn't leave room for things like joy, passion, meaning, or a purpose related to the work you do. Today's professional wants greater alignment and integration between who they are and what they do. Ideally, work should extend you and not require you to step out of yourself to perform.

Also, the "time for money" equation is what has kept my clients trapped on the top of that ladder they've climbed. This trap has forced them to focus on the importance of progressing up the career ladder, constantly searching for greater titles, more money, status, and power. 

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, it can be harmful in the long term if it causes you to overlook other aspects of your life that you value. Therefore, if I choose to become a baker instead of a lawyer, there's no shame, guilt, comparison, or judgment. 

With a new definition of "career," there also needs to be a new definition of "career coach," which I wrote about in another blog.

What do you think? Is it time to rethink the definition of career to one that's more empowered, creative, authentic to your 

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