Forty years ago, when my parents were starting work, a career meant staying in one particular industry and working your way up.
Staying in one industry is less popular these days – but working your way up is a powerful idea, and the word ‘career’ still implies a gradual progression through the ranks towards senior management.
I think that implication is problematic.
The things we associate with increasing seniority – increasing earnings, influence, and status – are certainly desirable.
But the assumption that one should strive to increase one’s seniority is worth questioning.
That assumption is important because it is implicit in much career advice, in the decisions that lots of people make about their current and future jobs, and in many of the anxieties that beset us at work.
Are the rewards of increasing seniority really so desirable that one’s entire working life should be structured around pursuing them?
Maybe – it depends on your personal priorities.
But more importantly, are the rewards of increasing seniority really so desirable that everyone’s entire working life should be defined in relation to pursuing them?
Certainly not. Seniority is not the only pursuit.
My personal priorities (at present) have led me to this as the definition of my desired career: getting paid to do interesting things.
I wonder how – or whether – that will manifest itself next time I change jobs?