Internal Strategies for Career Management

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – C.G Jung

When we live a mobile lifestyle it means we undergo many personal and career transitions.  It is easy (and often justified) to lament what a mobile lifestyle does to our career if we are the ones accompanying a significant other on their job assignments. I have often joked with my husband that long before I became a career practitioner I was an expert on writing resignation letters.

We need a toolbox full of strategies to help us navigate these transitions successfully (although sometimes just surviving them feels like a win!).  So much of our view of career success is based on external factors such as job titles,  location, the labor market, employer attitudes (at worst, bias), work visas, access to education and training etc. Often the more obvious career strategies we turn to are (even though individual) also external- job search techniques, writing a resume, joining LinkedIn, cultivating our network, applying for jobs. The problem with focusing on the aspects external to us is that by their very nature we have very little control over them.

However, not all the strategies we can use are external to ourselves.  I believe the best starting point for a successful career life (at any stage of your career) starts with looking inward.

Here are some internal strategies you can use to empower yourself and kickstart or reinvigorate your mobile career life.

1. Rethink your definition of career

Many of you may still view a career as climbing the ladder in your chosen profession in a uniform, linear fashion and therefore may end up feeling like you failed if your career has been anything but this. It’s time to rethink career.  To quote one definition, career is

“a lifestyle concept that involves the sequence of work, learning and leisure activities in which one engages throughout a lifetime.  Careers are unique to each person and dynamic… Careers include how persons balance their paid and unpaid work and personal life roles”  (Canadian Standards and Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners).

In addition it is becoming less and less common for individuals to stay with the one employer.  The “job for life” concept is fast diminishing in our new ‘knowledge economy’ so those of us who frequently move between jobs and in and out of employment as we relocate are becoming less marginalized. In addition we have developed strong skills over the years which employers of today are actively seeking.

“Career” isn’t the narrow concept we once viewed it as and career success doesn’t hinge on a single career decision made early in life.  Your career is as unique and dynamic as you are.

2. Be self-aware

We are all unique individuals. Each of us has our own individual strengths, traits and way of applying our skills.  This is the key to a job application– knowing how your skills, strengths, experience and individual style makes you the best applicant for the job.  As a career practitioner I can certainly help you uncover this information and present it in the most effective way possible because that’s where my expertise lies.  You though are the expert in your life.

Take the time to understand yourself and the skills and strengths you have that you want to share.  Understand what you enjoy doing and what you don’t in order to steer your career decisions to a satisfying outcome. What career decisions have you deemed a success or disappointment and why?  What are the main factors that have influenced your career life decisions?  What are the factors moving forward that will influence career choices? Don’t forget that your mobile lifestyle has provided you with some very marketable skills such as flexibility, adaptability, cultural awareness communication with diverse groups etc which will become more and more important as the world of work changes.  I come across many people who view their mobility as an accompanying partner as a hindrance to their career when instead it may just be the key to success.  More on this in another post.

Enlisting the help of a career development counselor or coach is an excellent way of uncovering this information and understanding yourself.  In my practice I use a combination of narrative counseling (story-telling) and informal assessments (such as skills card sorts) to help you gain an understanding of your self in relation to career and the direction you want to head in your career life.

3. Define success for yourself 

If careers are personal in nature then so is success.  What defines success for you?  Maybe it is money and status and climbing the corporate ladder.  But maybe it’s helping others, making a difference, living comfortably, being good at what you do, integrating your work and personal life satisfactorily.  It will be different for everyone. Knowing what success looks like to you (and it will most likely change over time) will help you define your goals and help your work towards them.

4. Don’t compare yourself to others

As Teddy Roosevelt wisely said “comparison is the thief of joy”.  If it was true back then it most definitely so in this day and age of social media.  Comparing ourselves to others is a fruitless and dangerous task and it is flawed.  If you are spending your time comparing yourself to others you are taking away valuable time from point 2 above i.e being self aware, taking time away from the things you enjoy doing and the people you enjoy being with and taking time away from working towards your goals. Worse, it can eat away at your self-confidence and undermine your sense of satisfaction and achievement.  Worse still it can elicit feelings of jealousy and resentment and cause us to push away  or avoid people who could bring great joy to our lives. The very worst part? It’s a flawed exercise.  Firstly, because we don’t know enough about the people we are comparing ourselves to; we can’t possibly know and understand all of the parts that came together to create their circumstances. We also tend to compare what we see as the worst aspects of our lives with what we see as the best in someone else’s. And secondly because as I discussed above we are all individuals with our own unique strengths and approaches.  We can’t compare apples and oranges right?!

Instead of practicing comparison practice gratitude and kind and constructive self-awareness.

5. Be open to possibility

I’ve written about this previously  in my article 5 Things You can Start Doing for Your Career Right Now and it is worth repeating.

Mobile individuals are nothing if not flexible and I’m sure that most ‘accompanying partners’ have done at least one job they didn’t envision doing.  Moving around your country or around the world exposes you to so many new opportunities including career opportunities.  Be open to these new possibilities.

None of us can predict what the future holds.  As one career theorist says “unplanned events are a normal and necessary component of every career” (Krumboltz, 2009).  The key to managing unplanned events according to Krumboltz is to:

“1. Before the unplanned event you take actions that position you to experience it

2. During the event you remain alert and sensitive to recognize potential opportunities

3. After the even you initiate actions that enable you to benefit from it.”

Ref:  Krumboltz, John (2009).  The Happenstance Learning Theory.  Journal of Career Assessment  17(2) pp 135-154.

Be prepared for new opportunities and when one comes up give it some serious consideration.  Even if you are working keep an eye out for new opportunities that may arise.  Sometimes some of the best things that happen to us are the ones we don’t see coming.

These are just a few of the internal strategies you can use to manage your career.  What are some internal strategies you use?


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