How Much Do You Own Your Career?

Suppose you buy the principle from my previous article that you need to own your career. You understand that you live in an innovation-driven economy, your learning must keep pace and employability is your responsibility. How, then, can you apply the principle of career ownership to yourself?

Career ownership is a natural extension of living in a democratic society, and exercising choice. Moreover, your career is not a physical artifact, like a dining table, that can stay in the same condition for a lifetime. Your career is always in a state of flux: shaping, and being shaped by, the outside environment. Here are some questions you can ask to test where you stand right now.

Where can you go? This first question calls for you to look beyond what’s familiar. What is the wider market for the work you can do, and the further learning that you seek? Do you have the skills to do something different? What do you know about employers that may value your talents? Are there opportunities for you to work in virtual space, from your own home? Whom can you talk to in order to find out more information? Are there part-time, or contract work or volunteer opportunities that can help you go in a new direction?

Who’s supporting you? Owning your career ought not to be a solitary activity. On the contrary, having friends, family, colleagues, and mentors who support you is an essential part of career ownership. Within this overall group you can identify a smaller group, an imaginary “board of directors” that you hold in high regard. What does your imaginary board look like? What kind of board vacancy would you like to fill? You can expect fluidity among your supporters, including adding new ones in return for favors you did them. In this way, effective “give and take” can play an important part in developing your support system over time.

Where’s your reputation? This question differs from the previous one. Its focus is on the people—bosses, customers, project team members, occupational peers and so on—who have directly experienced your work and respect what you can do. Over time, you can expect your reputation to become scattered across a wider area. Moreover, you don’t need to move to grow your reputation. That can happen through other people moving, and taking your reputation to new places. Many career moves stem from an unanticipated phone call from a former co-worker who knows your worth.

Who’s your agent? You will be familiar with the idea of an agent from the worlds of professional sports, or movie-making or the theater. You may not think you need any equivalent in your own career. However, it’s important to see that your agent may not be an individual person, but a function performed by a range of people. It’s common for bosses, co-workers, headhunters, and contractors from the past to want to work with you again. It’s useful to map out who those people are, and to keep in touch so that they stand ready to help again as your career moves forward.

What’s the next step? The most important point here is that you take a next step, and in turn another, and another. You may be under a lot of pressure to deliver results in your present job, or have little free time, or have family obligations that restrict what you’d really like to do. However, to practice career ownership you owe it to yourself to do something, however small a step that may be. That something can lead to a fresh round of experimentation that leads in turn to a new door of opportunity.sking where can you go, who’s supporting you, where’s your reputation, who’s your agent and what’s the next step can make you a more informed contributor to a democratic society. They can also take you a long way toward owning your career.