What Is a Career?

My definition of a career has changed about every 10 years.

I thought a career was something I’d stumble upon after graduating from college. It was college where I read and studied a bunch of subjects.  Some of them were related, but most were hit (Art) or miss (Linguistics) but would come in handy when I played Jeopardy from home.

Before college my definition of a career was determined by what I gleaned from watching my father who taught and coached at the local high school. He basically worked for the same “company” for over 30 years. He began his career teaching and coaching at a junior high school and worked his way up to the high school. But when he retired a few years ago, he was still doing the same type of work he did when he started out. He had a lot more responsibility and great influence, but he was still essentially doing what he was hired to do out of college, but on a bigger stage.

I can’t imagine working for the same company for 30 years.

I began my career by working at a chain of gift stores. I say it was my first real job only because I thought being on salary was a requirement for having a real job. When I began earning more money working on computers in my spare time I decided it was time to make a career change.

I bounced around working for a few companies, large and small, including a couple of dot-coms that had reached the Tyson Zone.  None of them felt like a career. But I did learn something from each of them even if all I could say is, “If I own my own company, I’ll never do that.”

Two decades ago I wanted to find something I was skilled at and do that on my own without the baggage of a company attached to it. Companies provide structure and procedure and rules and even safety. But they also ask you to take on their personality and to play by their rules. Recurring meetings, break rooms, open floor plans and near constant distractions are part of the corporate game. If you own a company, go to your calendar right now and cancel all your recurring meetings. Seriously. They are a massive waste of time and they breed more meetings. The best companies I worked for had the fewest meetings.

I’ve been working for myself going on three months now. I make my own schedule each day. Some days I work 3 hours and some days I work 13. I work when I’m most productive, not when I’m scheduled. I awoke this morning and jumped on email for 10 minutes before realizing it just wasn’t happening.  So I went for a bike ride up though the canyon with the breeze and sun in my face. When I returned home an hour later, I was ready to work.

I also get to select with whom I work. I’ve taken on a couple of fantastic clients and fired one when our personalities didn’t match.  One benefit of starting my own business later in life is that I’ve been able to learn from others. I’ve worked for people who allowed their business to run their life as they pushed their spouse and children into the background. That’s helped me determine what I’m willing to sacrifice and what I won’t for any price.

My only regret? I wish I had done this a decade or two earlier.