Inventing Your Career

It started with the phone book.

My father was visiting and asked, “Do you have a phone book?”

A phone book? No, I don’t have a phone book.  No white pages, no yellow pages.  Not one phone book in the house, I realized.

We both laughed when, with sudden awareness, I blurted, “No. No, I don’t.”

And that’s the difference, isn’t it?  My father’s generation relies on the familiarity of the phone book – you pick a real thing up, you find what you want, you put it down and if it’s not in there, well, it probably doesn’t exist. While my children’s generation relies on Google – which gives them nearly unlimited access to information and ideas from sources all around the world.

The phone book metaphor explains how differently people are managing careers today.

During this same visit, my 18-year old son was sharing the details of his job with his grandfather.  “Basically,” he said, “I figured out what I wanted to do, and then got someone to pay me to do it.”  With a smile, he added, “I invented my career, because it didn’t exist before.”

My son is the community manager for a large online community.  How large?  +900,000 unique members.  He has 20 people around the world who report to him, and he’s never met one of them in person.  (Ask him someday about who he hires, and why he fires – fascinating.)  He also built the computer servers which support the community.  And how did he get the job?  He went to the founders of the community and said, “I can grow your fan base.”  And they said, “Go ahead, kid.”

And he did.  And they pay him for it.

Google way:  Create a job out of thin air by recognizing a need and offering to fill it.

Phone book way: Expect the organization to recognize the need, craft a job description, post the job, read hundreds of resumes, interview a dozen candidates, craft an offer, negotiate the deal and fill the job.

Which is more agile?

We are at a real pivot point, friends, when it comes to employment.

What I’m seeing, after working with hundreds of people this year, is a shifting away from the idea of one job, one employer, one career, toward a variety of simultaneous efforts that leverage strengths and interests.

It’s the school teacher who works half-time teaching a specialty class like Latin, coaches an elite, competitive youth sports team, and contentedly throws pottery which she sells at a gallery downtown.

It’s the nurse who also leads a boot camp program and happily works as a personal trainer.

It’s the consultant, working on her own, who has five great clients and generates more income than she ever made on salary.

It’s me.  I mean, 25 years ago could you imagine anyone having the job I have?

It’s the kid who creates his own job by making a powerful offer to solve the problem he’s observed.

Of course, if you are totally phone book oriented, this intangible Google-esque approach might make you feel rather queasy.  I mean, isn’t it kind of weird to not have a job-job? Where’s the belongingness?  The team? Where’s the stability?

I guess you could ask the same thing of the thousands of employees Bank of America laid off.

We’re at a pivot point when many of us – even those who are currently working for one employer – will have to redefine what it means to work in the not too distant future.

And it’s going to feel weird and awkward.

Like when you realize you no longer limited to what’s in the phone book, but have all the resources of Google at your fingertips.

I’m going to tell you one thing. I know for certain that when you invent your own career, you consciously choose to leverage your own talents, your own skills, your own preferences – rather than contorting yourself to fit into a narrow job description of someone else’s design.

When you invent your own career, you offer your best self to solve the problems of people – whoever they may be and however many of them you happen to choose to serve, anywhere in the world.

That, my friend, is you as Google.

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Yes! You may use this article by Executive Coach, Career Strategist, author, speaker and teacher, Michele Woodward in your blog, article in your blog, newsletter or website as long as you include the following bio box:

Executive Coach, Career Strategist, author, speaker and teacher, Michele Woodward has the ability to help executives get clear about who they are and what they want to do — and develop a workable action plan to get where they want to go. Michele is a Master Certified Coach who has coached executives across the U.S. and around the world, from Japan and Australia to Latin America and Europe.  She trains and mentors other coaches and is considered a “coach’s coach.” She is the author of I Am Not Superwoman: Further Essays on Happier Living and Lose Weight, Find Love, De-Clutter & Save Money: Essays on Happier Living, both available at, as well as The Unstuck Process, a well-received e-book.  She’s a sought-after speaker, leads workshops and classes around the country, and writes a popular blog.

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