Redefining Your Career Dreams

If you are pursuing a career in the creative arts, you’ll probably get at least one well-meaning person giving you this advice: “If you like anything else besides (music, art, acting, etc.) do that instead.” There are also those people ( some who may be your parents) who will tell you that if you aren’t “successful” in your chosen career by age 26, you need to go back to school for something else. Before you get discouraged and scrap your career dreams, maybe you need to redefine them instead by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. How are you going to define success? This is a two-parter question because your definition of success depends on what you want out of life. Does success in your career mean that you are famous and live in a mansion? Does it mean you get to use your talent and are able to pay the bills too?
  2. What are you willing to sacrifice? We all initially give up some earning power when we go to school full-time to pursue a degree. But what are you willing to give up short-term and long-term, say, like, forever? I met 40-somethings in LA who happily lived in small studio apartments while occasionally landing bit movies parts. For them, success was being able to have some connection to acting while having a day job and living in an area of the country with a great climate.
  3. What makes you happy? Will you only be happy if you have a career as a musician? Are you willing to put up with family and friends who ask you “when will you get a real job?”
  4. What else does interest you as a career? I also met a nurse in LA who had a solid acting career. She went to nursing school after acting school and then set up her nursing jobs to take the hours that no one else wanted, often earning time-and-a-half and overtime. She built up her savings and reputation so that her employers were willing to let her come and go when she got cast in movies.

There is also the perception that if you do not “make it” in your chosen career, you can always pursue something related. For example, you can always teach or pursue arts administration instead of being a musician. This thinking sometimes leads to career trouble, however, because you need other skills in addition to musicianship. Can you actually teach? Do you have the patience because many of your pupils are apt to be kids who will need your patience as first-time or maybe even reluctant learners. . Do you know how to manage personnel, fund raise and take care of facilities as a budding arts administrator? Do you even WANT to do that?

One of the key things I’ve learned especially in working with creatives is that career dreams aren’t necessarily an end, a finite goal. It is often a long, rewarding process consisting of periodic redefining, tweaking and maybe even scrapping some parts of those goals.

Last question: Are you willing to commit to this process to create a life you can love?

You Need a Career Time Capsule

One of the things I liked best about Mac computers is an app called Time Machine. It lets you back up your computer so you can see which files you had on any given day. You can revert back to a day on which you knew you backed up a file and were sure it wasn’t corrupted or had the wrong information in it.

A career portfolio can function as your own personal career time machine and capsule. Many of us who use career portfolios to showcase work, our resumes and our projects update them on a fairly regular basis, often deleting earlier incarnations of the career portfolio. However, these old career portfolios do have significant value.

One piece of career advice that career consultants give is to tailor your resume and portfolio to the specific job for which you are applying. This means you are often adding or deleting valuable information about yourself. Creating a master career portfolio or time capsule ensures that you will not lose the information about the project you did five years ago. You may not think it matters all that much now, but there may be a future job for which you will need this information. Computers crash, and resumes and projects get lost. Continually updating a master career portfolio may seem like a chore, but you will be relieved to have it when you need it. And you will need it.

Recruiters are always on the look out for passive candidates, those candidates who have a job, are not looking for a new job and have up-to-date skills. Their goal is to place you as a passive candidate in often hard-to-fill positions. While there should be a good fit between you and the job, your career goals are not always going to receive top consideration.  This process can be an intense situation. Time is of the essence for both the recruiter and the company.  They may give you the hard sell and rush you into applying for a job and accepting an offer, one which you did not even know yesterday that existed.

This means that it is up to you to know what your current career goals are. Your previous career portfolios, along with a master career portfolio will remind you of your career goals and accomplishments along your career path. Armed with this information, you can calmly decide whether a job offer is right for you. Is one of your career goals still to have less travel days and more days with family? Then will the job that offers you a $10k raise in return for 150 more days of travel be worth it to you?

You also need to know and be reminded of what your past accomplishments are. Does this current job offer you a chance to build on past accomplishments, or merely to repeat them? Can you clearly define what the trade offs are going to be if you accept a new job, and whether will they be acceptable to you and your family?

A current master career portfolio reviewed with a series of saved previous career portfolios can save you time and stress when it comes to taking that next career step. This process puts you in control of your career and can make it easier to respond to and work with recruiters.

Career Notes To A Younger Self

I recently spoke with a longtime friend whose daughter is graduating into a difficult job market. We both reminisced about being in that situation, and it got me to thinking about what I would tell my younger self about careers. This is my time capsule to my younger self:

*Your college major will not definitively make or break you. It provides the foundation knowledge for what comes next; however, if you major in accounting and end up in marketing instead, the education is still useful.

*You get as many career do-overs as you need. I cannot tell you the number of people who excoriated me for leaving the social work field. I felt strongly, though, that the research in that field was not top caliber, did not provide realistic tools to help disadvantaged populations, and as a result, created many disillusioned social workers. I told my critics to pursue their own low paying social work career, and I moved on to related fields.

*Career path is an important learning experience. Landing that dream job may be key, but analyzing how you got there is important too. It helps you name what worked, what didn’t, the mistakes you made and how you fixed them, all important info for that next career move.

*Career trends come and go; do what makes you happy and pays the bills.

*Take a leap of faith and try a job you never, ever thought you would do, even if it’s just for a little while. You may learn things that are of tremendous value to you.

*Being fired is not the worst thing that can happen. It can actually lead to a better job fit somewhere else.

*Staying in a job that makes you unhappy is not physically or emotionally healthy. Ever read an at will work agreement? It means the employer can fire you at will with no notice, but the employee is required to give at least 2 weeks’ notice. Hmmm. There’s something wrong with that. There are times such as when you are in physical danger or being bullied where it is totally appropriate to leave without notice. Period.

*You are your most important competitor. Sure, you can learn from others in your field, but constantly comparing yourself to those whom you think are better, smarter or luckier than you can lead to feeling very discouraged about yourself. Measure your work against your previous accomplishments to keep improving because, unless you are a boss or working as a team, the only person’s work for which you are responsible is your own.

*Being the boss. You need self-discipline to work on your own. Being your own worst critic does not help you move forward. In managing others, look to what worked in the past when you were being managed.

Staying on Track: Keeping Your Dream Job in Sight

These days when I talk to friends and clients who have a job, not only are they worried about keeping that job, but they worry about staying on their self-determined career track. Is staying in a job an extra year or two going to delay reaching their dream job? Not necessarily. I understand why they are worried, though. I aspired to becoming a career counselor when a chronic illness sidelined that dream. As they say, life is what happens when you are busy making plans. And as it turned out, my career life has been pretty good, although not what I had expected. My dream job ultimately landed in my life a whole lot sooner than I had expected with a whole lot of new challenges; I expected to be writing and consulting about careers after retiring from college career counseling. I am doing that now, almost two decades before I am eligible to retire.

I think the lesson here is that whatever your colleagues and bosses may tell you, there isn’t just one path to your dream job; there could be many. I am always looking for career tools to empower and help the people I talk to about careers. Monster is running a Beta version of  its Career Mapping tool. It’s kind of like a cognitive map where you write a main idea in the middle and other ideas around it with arrows to show how the ideas are connected. Your starting point on the career map is on the right at the search box. (I am purposely not giving you the URL yet. Read this first before you try it.) Put in the title of your dream job and hit search. You probably will get a map with a career in the middle that does not seem to related at all to your dream job. I did. I searched career counselor, and the map came up with HR. But stay with it, this career mapping thing gets better. Click on the map circles to see related careers within that middle career and sample paths. You can see where others in your field started and have been, career steps on a sample path, you can build and save your own career paths, and you can search for open jobs related to each step.

The lines on the map are different thicknesses and colors to indicate your chosen path and paths that have been commonly followed. Remember, a commonly followed path doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the right one for you. Economic and family issues can dictate that you take one of the alternate routes for now.

What is Valuable

One of the harder to find areas on the Career Mapping page is a link labeled “More details” in purple at the bottom of the box where you searched for your dream job. Your job title and Bureau of Labor Statistics information is listed. Beneath that, click on “More details” to get to a page with your job title, a summary of what that job entails and then responses people in that job have given to a series of questions. This section will become more valuable as more professionals log on and leave answers to these questions. But for right now, the questions themselves are what is valuable because these are questions you should be asking while navigating your career path. Some of them include “How did you get into this job,” “What is your typical day like,” “What advice would you give me,” and others that you can read when you browse the Career Mapping site. (Nope, no URL yet!)

I bet you did not believe me above when I said there is more than one path to your dream job, yet the Career Map illustrates that for you, even moving the map to a different, but related field as you navigate, as happened to me when I followed a less commonly used Admissions path, and the map moved to education.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a huge, comprehensive site for career exploration, but you can get lost in this site and never find what you really need. Monster’s Career Mapping gathers the information for your dream job on one page and lets you explore related careers.

What Needs Work

The “Go” button is a pretty basic starting point, right? But it takes you to a page with a box strewn with careers and more boxes and more boxes. I get that this is what most people who visit this page are feeling like as in, “I don’t know where to start.” But make it easier. Sheesh!!! There is a printed tutorial at the bottom which should be moved to the top. The search box that really gets you started should be highlighted in neon colors or something. There are up/down, left/right arrow schematics at the upper left of the page, but navigation can feel clunky. I could not get back to the original HR Career Map, so if all else fails, redo your original search to go back to the beginning of your path.

Want to Try Career Mapping?

OK, so now it’s your turn. Do you want to try this? Good! It’s not the easiest career tool to use, but I think you will get some useful information. Click here to try Monster’s Career Mapping site.