Managing Your Career Like a Business
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Pundits predict that those entering the business world will switch careers as many as six times in their lifetimes (maybe even more); that’s "careers," not jobs. I don’t know where the pundits got their numbers, and I don’t really care. Truth be told, I don’t know how one even becomes a pundit, but I suspect it pays less than a rodeo clown makes.
Regardless, six careers are a scary prediction: It’s tough enough managing one career, let alone six, but I don’t worry about it. I’ve had something like 30 jobs in my life (I started working when I was 13 or 14 and sometimes worked three jobs at a time). These included two paid gigs as a clown and jobs as the world’s frumpiest model, a fry cook, a communications specialist for an inflatable restraints manufacturer and, well, suffice it to say, the list goes on and on.
In short, my career has been resilient. What I’ve found is that in general it’s easier to find a job than it is to lose one. Don’t believe me? Stop by a chain coffee shop and order something simple. Over the years I’ve learned to stress less and less about jobs, because I have always thought of myself as a business enterprise rather than an employee.
Here are some tips for running your career like a business:
1. Remain independent.
It’s easy to get so dependent on a company that you mistake your fear of unemployment with loyalty or a career path. These days, a career path within a single company is more like a financial death march. Many companies are particularly adroit at repeatedly swindling you out of your pay and benefits while convincing you that you’ll never have it this good again. They’re also repeatedly telling you that “everyone’s doing it.”
Well, I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid and the neighborhood bully was picking on me, I took no comfort in the fact that he was picking on other kids, too. By thinking of yourself as a company, you begin to see your current employer as an important customer; but you don’t feel as if you are owned outright. You know that no matter how bad it gets working for that employer, you choose to remain there, and that is very liberating.
So, don’t worry too much about who gets the credit. People worry too much about who gets credit for a good idea. In my experience you'll never will be sorry for making your boss look good; and nobody will believe that your boss suddenly got smarter the day you started working for him/her. Along those same lines, people get fixated on blame; but who’s at fault isn't as important as how you contribute to fixing things and making sure it doesn't happen again.
2. Brand yourself.
Know what you stand for and make what you stand for known. A person who stands for nothing has nothing to offer. Personal branding will make or break your career, so you'd better spend some time reflecting on exactly what you want the world to perceive you as, and recognizing that when it comes to branding, everything matters
This ranges from how you "show up" for events like meetings, to your email, to interaction with colleagues, to how you dress and the language that you use. And while we’re on the subject of language, stop butchering the English language arbitrarily making a word plural, changing a noun into a verb (or vice versa). And talking "street" may in some very rare cases impress someone in the local watering hole but it’s poison in corporate America.
3. Be flexible in your beliefs and continuously learn.
Politicians who change their minds are reviled as flip-floppers, but isn’t changing your mind (when you're confronted with irrefutable proof that what you believe is wrong) a good thing? Society dangerously reveres those who are staunch and unyielding in their beliefs. It’s wise to listen to a variety of opinions and learn from as many people as you can, but never mistake stubbornness for conviction or conviction for wisdom.
Knowledge is power, and the best way to get knowledge is still reading. Read, but read with hard eyes and a skeptical heart. Seek out things with which you disagree and dismantle the arguments they make only after you have truly heard them; as you do this, keep an open mind. Understand that your deepest held values of today may embarrass and shame you tomorrow; it's a natural part of growth.
5. Trust your judgment.
Balancing between trusting what you know is right and listening to advice from people with more experience can be precarious. You have to trust your gut while at the same time considering that people have legitimate concerns that they are raising. Don’t fret. Copernicus, Einstein and Jobs all had their detractors, so if people think you don’t know what you’re doing is misguided, you’re in good company
Hang In there. Life's lessons are painful, and unless you find yourself scared, stressed or in some way unsettled by life's lessons, you probably aren't learning or growing too much. The most important values you will have in life typically come out of the crucible of fear and anxiety.