“The future depends on what you do today.” — Mahatma Gandhi
At PathWise, we have a number of core beliefs about career management. The first and most foundational of these is owning your career. You’re going to live it, and no one else is as well-qualified or motivated as you to guide your career growth.
You’ll undoubtedly get help and advice along the way – from family, friends, colleagues, mentors, managers, senior leaders in your company, Human Resources, etc. – but you’re going to live your career, and you need to own it. Everyone else is just a source of input, and sometimes they’re actually not good sources of input.
The Importance of Owning your Career
Owning your career is an ever more important principle, particularly for those of you who are early in your professional journeys. A recently released Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study showed that the youngest Baby Boomers held more than 12 jobs prior to turning 55 and were employed just under 80% of the time, and even less if they were Black or Hispanic.
Using these statistics as a reference, you’re likely going to change employers roughly 5-7 times, and you may make a shift in career direction once or twice along the way as well. It’s not like the ‘old days’ enjoyed by your parents (or their parents), where an individual worked for one or maybe two employers through their whole career.
It’s also especially important for those of you who are self-employed, who want to start a business, who want a side hustle, or who are part of the gig economy. In these cases, there isn’t an HR organization to help you.
Ownership of your career – and career development in general – takes occasional planning, day-to-day discipline, and ongoing focus. You need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone at times. You also need to be open-minded, as sometimes the unexpected development opportunity comes along that has the potential to take you in an exciting direction you’d never envisioned.
Along the way, always remember that you’re running your own race. Yes, professional advancement is a competition, arguably the biggest and most common competition most of us will experience. But if you spend too much time comparing yourself to others, you’ll just make yourself crazy.
It’s important to remember as well that you can’t control everything around you. Things happen – both good and bad – so focus on yourself, what you want, and what you can control.
The Business of You
A corollary to owning your career is to remember that you’re building the business of you, and HR is in the business of your employer. There’s an important difference between the two. HR is responsible for establishing the “people processes” of the company – hiring the right people, helping to develop them, managing promotions, and the like. They will guide the managers and employees of the company through these processes.
Their interests and your interests are aligned only to a point. They, and your company more broadly, may not share your view of your worth and contributions. They may want you to stay when you want to leave. They may want you to leave when you want to stay. Too often, they’ll want to pay you less than they should. While they have a legal obligation to protect you – such as from injury, workplace bias, and harassment – they will always protect the interests of the company over your own.
Use what they provide to your advantage, whether it’s education reimbursement, training programs, learning and development, etc. – but never lose sight of the fact that you, and you alone, are in the business of you.
At PathWise, we provide a structured approach to career management, offering a comprehensive set of tools, exercises, articles, blogs, videos, and events, all backed by a network of coaches and other career experts who can help with building a successful career. We provide an approach to help you articulate your career path and define your personal brand.
Sources and Recommended Further Reading:
- Allen, Rita B. “10 Essential Tips to ‘Own Your Career’”. HuffPost, February 27, 2017.
- Allen, Terina. “Do These Four Things to Own Your Career”. Forbes. August 20, 2018.
- Hoffman, Reid and Ben Casnocha. The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, Random House Business. 2012.
- Storch, Andy. Own Your Career Own Your Life: Stop Drifting and Take Control of Your Future. Self-Published. November 2020.