Re-Frame Your Career as a Professional Journey 

I’d like to present an alternative framework – the professional journey – to help you better manage your career and professional life. You see, I am not a fan of the word career. I use it of course because it is accepted terminology. But I find that the term career has associations like “one thing for life” and “ladders,” that aren’t always helpful.

The idea of the professional journey provides a more useful framework to both conceptualize our working life and take useful action to influence its trajectory and the overall experience.

We are all on a professional journey, one that begins with our first work experiences and ends at full retirement or end of life. Let’s ignore the differences in professions, job function, job level, and industries. This concept of a professional journey applies whether we are employees, entrepreneurs, freelancers, or other self-employed professionals.

My assumption with my audience is that, like me, you care about your journey. Yes for your financial well-being. But also because for you, and I, doing work that matters is important. We value how we spend our time at work and we may even desire some level of professional adventure. We want our work to fit with who we are. And we recognize that we are responsible for our professional well-being.

A Broader Framework to Better Manage your Career

With those assumptions in mind, the concept of a professional journey becomes a useful framework for managing our professional self. So, here are a few concepts that help put the management of your career into a broader context.

Profession Choice: At the most basic level, we make some form of choice about what our area of focus will be from which we can earn a living. A profession. A job function focus. An industry specialization. More and more, particularly in the world of knowledge work, I don’t see this as a fixed, one-time choice. Interesting things can happen when you explore how and where to apply your professional assets.

Journey Stages: Our professional journey tracks with our life journey, with natural stages, or seasons. Our priorities, perspective, strategies and options have a lot to do with where we are in life. The career worldview of a 20-something is different than the 40-something. Experience brings learning. The degree of freedom we enjoy alters over time.

Roads & Paths: These represent the major decision points and the subsequent direction we take like more education, should I take this job, do I go out on my own, is it time for a change.

Reputation: We leave a footprint on our journey, and it can be managed and leveraged.

Professional Adventures: Along the way, we will encounter adventures. Some are forced upon us, like job loss. Some of our choosing and design, like a proactive career change or starting your own business. Many people try and avoid any adventures while others seek them out. One way to think of some of these adventures is as quests where you have one of these personas:

  • Stabilizer & Enhancer: When you need or desire to improve and elevate your current work situation
  • Builder: When you are looking and feel ready to get to the next level in your current arena of expertise (next-level job title, bigger portfolio, etc.)
  • Navigator: When you seek a career move and know (or think you know) what you want to do
  • Explorer: When you seek a career change without clear ideas about what’s next
  • Creator: When you have a vision of something you want to create, or an alternative work arrangement you want to pursue

Encounters: As you make your way, you will run into people who will influence your trajectory. As advisors. As influencers. As connectors. As agitators. Like other parts of your journey, you can manufacture more of these encounters. Consider me as one of these people, the “Yoda” to you, Luke (pick your favorite hero).

Other Seasons: Like seasons of the year, our appetite for adventure, change, and growth also ebbs and flows over the course of our professional life. Factors like health and wellness and family changes can have a major impact on whether we are just trying to hold on, our seeking to grow and expand.

States: Another category of “states” which have a large bearing on your professional well-being. In addition to the ongoing battle between our ears to stay on course and not give up, there is a range of states that color our professional view. At any given time, we are constrained or empowered by our degree of clarity, confidence, market power, and others.

  • Degree of clarity: Who are you professionally? What is your offering? Are you clear on your natural target markets?
  • Degree of market power: The hard truth is that we have built and enjoy different levels of career capital and market power.
  • Degrees of freedom: The greater your sense of choice and margin in life, the easier the opportunity to try new things, take new risks, and design the future you want.
  • Degree of confidence: A function of the above three mentioned separately because I often see senior professionals with fantastic offerings who lack confidence in where they fit in the marketplace.

Skills: There are certain skills that make the journey more rewarding and enjoyable and the arrival at the intended destinations, more certain.

Roadmaps, Blueprints, Skills, Tools & Resources

I see my role at the Bold Career Project as part way-finder, part trainer, part provider of maps and blueprints, and part advisor. If you are currently at a fork in the road, please reach out.