Expecting More from Your Career (and Less from Your Job)

Image by ejaugsburg from Pixabay

The first point in the mentality of Being the DRI of your Career is expecting more from your career and less from your job. Your current work situation – good, bad, or fine – is just a moment in your career.

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.

Three concepts within this:

  • Plan for Opportunity
  • The Work > The Title
  • Define the Moment

Plan for Opportunity

Some people have a five year plan. I have optionality.

Personally I’ve never been able to connect with the idea of being able to plan your life. This is even more true in a relatively new, highly evolving industry. Who is to say the things I’ll be working on ten years from now are even viable today? If I plan, I am necessarily limiting myself to what I can see today, leaving out all the things that I am not aware of yet.

The way I think about things is less “what do I want to do?” and more “what opportunities do I want to be available to me?”. The more options something opens up, the more excited I am about it. Decisions that cut off options should be taken carefully. For instance, investing in taking coaching training has deepened or increased options available to me. Really committing to the management track has got me to a place where it would be very hard (although not impossible) to go back to being an IC.

Maybe you have a five year plan, and that’s great if it works for you. If you reframe it in terms of making those options available to you, would you be making different decisions?

If you don’t have a five year plan, what options would you like to be available to you down the line? What could you do to make those options more available to you?

The Work > The title

A job title is a few words. The work is 40+ hours a week. It makes sense to prioritize accordingly.

Job titles can be useful. Especially for people who get judged on past performance rather than potential, so – people historically marginalized in tech. I get much more interesting recruiter messages now I have a “proper” job title, versus when my job title was emoji. I also get a lot more sales emails, so I remain unclear on whether it’s a net win.

But, job titles are not comparible, are often meaningless, and usually far less impactful on your actual life (and career) than the actual work you have to do. Over-prioritizing factors relative to their impact is a fast track to making decisions that don’t best serve your overall well-being.

A job title is not a goal. Do you want to “be a staff engineer” or do you want technical leadership on complex, interesting projects. Do you want to “be a VPE” or do you want a job that combines organizational and technical leadership of a large organization? Using job titles can seem like a useful shorthand, but it’s easy to default to chasing status over what will actually make you happy. Be specific about what you want and why you want it. Think critically about the work you actually enjoy and how you add value.

Also consider how some job titles can reduce your optionality. Once you take a manager title, it becomes harder to go back to being an IC. Once you have a VP title, it becomes harder to find another job – even if just because there are fewer of such roles available. Both of these things are fine if that’s what you want, but that’s a decision to make mindfully.

Define the Moment

This job is just a moment in your career.

Because people tend to define their career through the lens of their current role, they attach too much importance to what is currently going on, and miss its place in the bigger picture. But whatever is going on right now is just a moment in the broader arc. Your career is not defined by this any more than a month long adventure is defined by one day within it. Yes, occasionally, in extreme circumstances. But very rarely.

Deciding what this moment is, helps you decide what to do with it.

… a moment of opportunity
What potential does this create? What optionality does it facilitate?

… a moment of challenge
This is the power of the stretch assignment – meet the challenge, see what opens up as a result.

… a moment of trauma
The most dangerous moment – is this moment creating something you will carry with you and need to untangle later? Tread carefully.

…a moment of calm
Sometimes we need our jobs to just be fine. Not too stressful, not too challenging, to create space for other things in our lives.

Looking at things as moments can help to give perspective and make things more endurable. Maybe your boss is abusive, but you choose to finish the project/organize your financials before you move onto something new – despite how miserable that sounds, there is huge power in choosing to endure something for your own reasons rather than being a victim of circumstance. Maybe you take on a challenge, push yourself, because you know it doesn’t need to be forever and this opportunity is worth it. Maybe your ambition did not die of COVID, maybe you just needed a moment of calm to survive living through a global pandemic.

If something feels untenable, how do you step back from it and make it a moment? What needs to change? And what resources are available to you to make that change?