Don’t Let Your Job Get in the Way of Your Career

Out of the blue, an old friend from high school whom I hadn’t heard from in years sent me an email.

My friend was successful, with a high-paying job, a lovely house, and a good family. He became an engineer like his father and followed the traditional career path laid out for him when he was fourteen. Then, when he turned 30, he sent me an email asking if there was more to life than the success he achieved at an early age.

According to Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas, many people follow the traditional career path of obtaining the proper education to land the right job and guarantee a great life. However, Rose and Ogas describe how people found fulfillment through building unconventional career paths in their book, Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment.

When is it time to build your unconventional career path?

  • When you are no longer growing in your current job
  • When you can do your job in your sleep (and sometimes do)
  • When you are no longer learning new things in your job
  • When you dread waking up in the morning to go to work
  • When the only motivation comes from your paycheck

Building an unconventional career path is hard, and you will spend much time exploring your options before you find success. Dark Horse is full of stories of people who found their unconventional career paths. For example, there is Susan Rogers, who loves music and going to concerts. She left an abusive relationship to become a sound engineer despite not having formal training in electronics. Ms. Rogers devoted herself to studying sound engineering and became a sound engineer for Prince. She then talked her way into a cognitive science Ph.D. program and became a full professor who studies how people perceive music.

Discovering an Unconventional Career Path Through Four Questions

An example that I use when teaching strategic career reinvention is to imagine you’re a lawyer who is a solo practitioner. You live in a medium-sized city with a few other solo practitioners and two large law firms. You work long hours and weekends to stay competitive. You hire me to coach you in finding an unconventional career path.

We start with four questions:

  • Which factors that the legal industry takes for granted should be eliminated?
  • Which factors should be reduced well below the legal industry’s standard?
  • Which factors should be raised well above the legal industry’s standard?
  • Which factors should be created that the legal industry has never offered?

Our solo practitioner reviews their expenses, revenue, business activities, and business processes to determine what can be eliminated, reduced, raised, and created. The two most significant expenses are the legal office rent and the legal assistants’ salaries and benefits. They can save much money by eliminating these expenses.

Second, the solo practitioner examined their billing records and realized that much of their work was filling out legal forms, preparing for court appearances, and doing legal research. The solo practitioner can outsource the legal reviews and tasks to virtual legal assistants. The sole practitioner then hires a website developer to create legal forms clients can fill out online through the attorney’s website. In a final reduction step, the attorney establishes a network of legal colleagues who take on litigation while paying the solo practitioner a finder’s fee.

The solo practitioner realizes they are most motivated by teaching others about the law. Thus, spending more time explaining the law is a natural fit for his motivations. The solo practitioner starts a podcast and a video series on YouTube to establish their thought leadership. Next, the lawyer takes a few coaching classes and offers a package deal to coach new clients on elder and family law issues.

Finally, the lawyer markets their convenience by offering a pre-paid legal services plan and house calls to clients’ homes or businesses. The lawyer also offers a flat-fee legal form and review service through their website. These strategies and offerings will help distinguish the solo practitioner from other attorneys in the city while playing to the sole practitioner’s motivations and strengths. [This section excerpted from my book, Strategic Career Reinvention (2022)]

Now It’s Your Turn to Reinvent Your Job or Career

Apply the four questions to your job. What factors would you like to eliminate or at least reduce? What factors would you like to do more of? And do you have new ideas for doing parts of your job differently? Talk to your boss to determine if they will let you reinvent your job. Or try to find a position that best fits your ideas for reinventing your job. It may be time to rethink your career. But before you make that career leap, think about what you will find fulfilling in the next step in your career journey.

Dr. Bill Brantley works in the U.S. Navy Inspector General Office as a Senior Training Specialist where he is leading the project to build the Office’s first learning portal for nearly 1,000 employees in the enterprise. He has been a program manager for the Emerging Leader Program and Supervisor Certificate Program at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He also managed the Executive Coaching and the Career Coaching Programs. Dr. Brantley was awarded the 2019 Emerging Training Leader by Training Magazine and is an IPMA-HR SCP, a Certified Professional in Talent Development, an ROI certified professional, a certified data scientist, and a Certified Professional in Training Management. He is a certified Project Management Professional, a certified agile project manager, a certified professional in business analysis, and is certified in Disciplined Agile. He has completed over 200 hours of coaching training from the Neuroleadership Institute, the American Confidence Institute, emotional intelligence coaching, and the Global Team Coaching Institute. Dr. Brantley is an adjunct faculty member for the University of Louisville (20+ years) and the University of Maryland (8+ years). He is the author of the “Persuasive Project Manager” (2019) and “Four Scenarios for the Future of the Federal Government” (2019).

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