The start of a new year is a fitting time to think about beginnings. As we tear the December page off our calendar and begin a new passage around the sun, many of us also use the same demarcation point to begin diets or physical fitness programs or family dinners every week. Universally, beginnings are hopeful times, which is why it's so strange that we exclude them from our careers.
The conventional way of looking at the events in our careers is to see them as a series of endings. Often unconsciously, we assume that graduation is the end of our education, finding a job is the end of our search for employment opportunities and achieving a promotion at work is the end of our quest to be the best in our profession.
Unfortunately, however, this perspective not only squashes hope, it forces you to see your career as both:
- An experience shaped by outside forces that are beyond your control.
- A series of disconnected events, each of which leads to its own final and discrete conclusion.
This point of view gives most career changes a bad name. Every new assignment, new job, new boss, new work schedule, new employer, and new occupation has a negative feeling. Why? Because without an overarching rationale or vision, nothing ties the changes in your career together. There's no ultimate purpose – you aren't advancing toward a clearly defined objective that was meaningful to you, but rather lurching through a series of disjointed events that are imposed on you. The only way you can determine where you are in your career is your salary, and that adjustment is based on your employer's appraisal, not yours.
And if that isn't bad enough, each unconnected work change comes to its own, unconnected conclusion. Of course, there's always some satisfaction from advancement, even if it's defined by your employer. That satisfaction, however, is typically tempered by your knowledge that success means the end of your endeavor.
What's the Alternative?
Such hopelessness is not only unhealthy, it is completely unnecessary. You can instill promise in your career simply by adopting a different outlook, one in which you see career change as a continuum. You can capture a sense of possibility in your work simply by recognizing that each event is connected to the one that preceded it. They are all stepping stones along the journey of your career. What sets them in place and holds them together is your commitment to the expression of your special gift – your inherent ability to excel.
To put it another way, the changes in your employment experience should all have the same purpose: to advance your development and use of your talent. This perspective transforms career events from endings into beginnings. While the outcome is clearly important, it is the ongoing experience of moving forward that is your penultimate reward.
Graduation, a successful job search and the advancement of your career through promotion or job change can be seen for what they truly are. Graduation is not the end of your professional development, but rather the beginning of your quest for professional expertise. Landing a new job doesn't mean the hard work is over in your career, but rather, that it is just beginning. And, earning a promotion or taking a better job isn't your reward for what you have already done, but instead your single, best opportunity to do even more.
Each event, but especially each job, is a platform for both performance and preparation. It is a crucible in which the challenge of your present work draws out the dimensions of your best self. That expanded capacity, in turn, resets you to advance to yet another and greater employment experience which then draws out even more of the best within you and prepares you to embark on still another challenging opportunity. These serial beginnings are the only career victories that matter because they, alone, maximize what is most important in your work – what it does for you.