Being the DRI of Your Career

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At DuckDuckGo, there’s an expression: “You are the DRI of your career” (DRI: Directly Responsible Individual). I like this, both as an individual who has always felt like the DRI of my own career, and I like it as a manager because I think it makes the boundaries of what you can and can’t do for people clear.

What does it mean to be the DRI of your career? To me, 5 things:

  • Expect less from your job and more from your career.
  • Learn from feedback.
  • Own your professional development.
  • Distinguish what your employer rents versus what they buy.
  • Build your support system.
  1. Expect less from your job and more from your career. Your life is more than your career, and your career is more than your current job. Your current job should serve your life or career in some way, or it’s probably time to consider moving on. The goal is not to optimize for this moment – the current job – but your overall career. Sometimes jobs you don’t enjoy contribute meaningfully to your career trajectory. Sometimes jobs you enjoy are not developing your skills. Being clear about the distinction makes trade-offs explicit and decisions clearer.
  2. Learn from feedback. Read Thanks for the Feedback, work on becoming more coachable, but ultimately: decide what to take and what to leave. Don’t bend yourself into a pretzel trying to be something you’re not, and don’t invest too much in things that are ultimately coping mechanisms that won’t serve you (will in fact harm you) elsewhere. Feedback is just information. Sometimes it’s information you can use to improve, and sometimes it’s information you can use to make informed decisions about where you should be spending 40+ hours a week.
  3. Own your professional development. Your professional development budget is what your employer gives you to invest in your career – take advantage of it. What you decide to invest on top of that is up to you – at times more or less depending on the demands of life. Having a sense of what you’re working towards both within and without your workplace helps you prioritize time (and money).
  4. Distinguish what your employer rents versus what they buy. I find this particularly relevant when it comes to things like “personal brand”. My employer buys my time, they rent my personal brand. To that end, I’m conscious that whilst it’s part of the value I bring, I don’t want it devalued because ultimately it’s my asset for the long term. This concept also applies to expertise. My expertise is rented, and so I maintain my understanding of what it’s worth, and what is current on the open market. If your job does not match the market in a way that will make it hard for you to find another one, I hope your employer is paying a lot of rent – because they are destroying the market value. At times that might be worthwhile, but often it is not, and people realize that too late.
  5. Build your support system. I firmly believe that we should get different things from different people – from our managers, from our peers, from our friends, from a coach. Part of managing up is knowing what your manager is good at and what they are not, and making sure that regardless of that, our own needs are met. Often who is our manager is out of our control and that makes people feel powerless (especially when they expect too much from their job rather than their career). But, we have power over all our other sources of support and this can buffer us against re-orgs and our manager’s failibilities. As a manager I’ve become increasingly clear with my directs what I can meaningfully help them with, and what they could better find elsewhere (and then I help them find that).

All of these ideas are relatively long term, but that makes sense – your career is a longer term play than your current role. One thing I see as a coach is that people come with the pressures of right now – their current manager, their current role. Increasingly I see the value of coaching as helping people connect with their future selves and the longer term plans and priorities that help them get there.

If you step back from your day to day and think about these five aspects, what are you doing well? And what might you want to pay more attention to?

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