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CEO of your career? Or hiding in your career "back office"?

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

In the business of being you, are you in the CEO’s office, or some back office taking orders?

I don’t think it’s a novel idea to say that if we think about our careers as our business, then we are all the CEO’s of our careers. And yet, so many of us tend to treat our careers as if we are a passive stakeholder in the business, taking direction from others on where to go in our careers, rather than determining our direction.

If the CEO of the company had no vision for the direction of the business, and had no grasp on the resources at hand to achieve that vision, well the business wouldn’t go very far would it? It might manage for a while, but at some point it would probably come to a grinding halt, with the CEO possibly taken by surprise. Yet I see so many of us, treat our careers that way – including me a few years back. I recall believing that because I worked hard and had been fairly successful in moving upwards in my career, that this would continue and that I would feel perpetually fulfilled. I took opportunities where they presented themselves (in retrospect largely when no one else wanted the opportunity), but with no particular strategic vision on where my career was headed. And at some point I started to feel really stuck.

A conversation opened my mind to rewriting my career story

It was in a moment of feeling particularly disgruntled, that I had an enlightening conversation with a very wise friend. The conversation started off with how I was feeling so stuck, and feeling like I had no options. My assumption was that I was stuck in a silo, where I could continue upwards, but couldn’t branch out, that I would do what I was doing, where I was doing it, forever.

My friend saw things quite differently though. At the end of my rambling she identified a number of different directions she thought I could go in, and they had nothing to do with my qualifications. It was the start of a process for me that was mind shifting and ultimately led to me taking control of my career as my business again. The mindset shift had a lot to with seeing my career as a collection of experiences that had been building on each other, rather than a chronology of upward progressions.

I realised that I needed to completely rewrite my story. And once I could rewrite my story for myself, and for my career, I would be able to reposition myself into work that I wanted to be doing, rather than the work I felt I was limited to doing.

We all have a kaleidoscope of career opportunities if we look through the right lense

A few years later, and in the midst of an entirely new career story, I find myself surrounded by people that are also eager to make career changes, but haven’t a clue in what direction. These people are my clients. Many of them come to me wanting assistance in writing their CV’s and updating their LinkedIn profiles – the trouble is in so many instances they have no idea how or where to position themselves. They have no idea what they want their next move to be. In so many instances they say “I don’t want to be a XYZ any more, but I am only qualified to be a WYZ”. Yes, old me would have related to that!

So in most instances, long before we work on their CV’s we start having a conversation that helps them to see the richness of their experiences and competencies rather than the history of all the positions they have held.

In “Up Is Not The Only Way: Rethinking Career Mobility”, the authors (Beverly Kaye, Lindy Williams and Lynn Cowart) suggest looking at our careers through a kaleidoscope rather than a telescope – in other words, seeing an array of options where previously we saw a linear view. They proceed to mention that when looking through a kaleidoscope (in which only three mirrors create the myriad of patterns) what we are seeing are the varying combinations of career options created by the intersect between our competencies, values and interests.

So if you find that your career is in a rut, that you have stepped out of your career’s driving seat, and you are wanting to get your career on track in 2018, perhaps consider these questions:

  • In the “business of being you”, are you in the CEO’s office, or in some back office taking orders?

  • When you look at your career as a collection of experiences and competencies, what patterns emerge?

  • What are the kaleidoscope of career options that emerge when you consider your competencies, your interests and your values?

  • If "up" is not the only way, where else do you want to go in your career?

This article is the first in a series of 6 articles that will explore the concept of managing your career as a business.

Are you managing your career, or is your career managing you?


I love conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.

I believe "managing your career like a business" means having insight on where you want to go in your career, the agility and resilience to change track when necessary, competence to navigate transition points, and self-awareness to manage yourself.

I help you do that through one-on-one coaching, CV and LinkedIn profile writing, topic-specific workshops and a suite of blogs and other materials available on my website. Want more information? Drop me a message and I will get back to you asap.

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