What Does a Good Career Look Like?


Careers last a long time. Your career is literally the entire period of your work life. The reasonable base expectation for our work lives is we did our job well and, in return, earned a living. For the record, doing your job(s) well and earning a living over the period of a career is something to be proud of in and of itself.

As the years passed, I have come to realize that a career is about the journey and not the destination. A good career is about what happens on your career journey and how you reacted to whatever it was. In the end, the journey was what it was. Whether or not you feel yours was a good career; it’s in hindsight to decide.

The dictionary definition of Career is a person’s progress or general course of action through life or through a phase of life, as in some profession or undertaking.

We cannot change the past of our careers. The best we can do is heed the lessons our past taught us. This is not to imply you should want to change your past. There are people who work at the same job for decades, growing in experience and learning new things all the time. There are others who seem to have just one year’s worth of experience repeated for years on end. Let me be clear, no matter where you are in your career, changing where you have been is not an option. Your option is how you are going to react now.

The future of our career is yet to be determined. The best you can do about the future is to keep it in mind as you do your job day to day. The past is in the past and the future will be what it will be. Some of the future is in your control but you do not control as much as you might think you do. The real key to a good career is doing the best you can today. It is a real cliché but learn from your past, keep an eye on the future all while living in the present.

In the real world, the trajectory of our career path is not a straight, upward-pointing line. Our paths are influenced by numerous factors – some within our control, some not. Budgets get cut back, technologies change, people have children, interests change, opportunities change, relationships get interesting and the list goes on. Through it all, remember that your job is what you have right now and doing your job well is important. However, your career is long and it will ebb and flow.

Here are some basic thoughts on what might make for a good career:

1. Be as competent as you can be at doing your job. Try new things. Let experience teach you what works and does not work. Be willing to be wrong once in a while, but learn from it. Get training and education. Take a class or go to a seminar. Attend sessions at a conference. Learning is inherently valuable to your career.

2. Suggest and or try new ways to get your job done. Be open to trying new ways suggested by others. Sure, it might be at the expense of your current job but have faith in your ability to land on your feet.

3. It is okay to be ambitious about getting ahead. But it is not okay to hurt the career of others to get ahead. In fact, helping others get ahead is a great answer when you get asked, “why do you want to be promoted?”

4. Be genuine, not a robot. Open up to others and be open when others confide in you. Getting along with others is important in almost every career. It is certainly an important part of being a decent human being. Be reasonably social.

5. Sooner or later you will have a load of crap plopped on your lap. First, clean up the mess the best you can. Do what you can to prevent it from happening again. Worry about who was to blame later. Never take revenge but take the high road instead.

6. Relationships are formed by sharing experiences with others. Form relationships by sharing experiences with coworkers. Lone wolves make good novels but generally not great careers.

7. Do what it takes to learn about your agency or organization. What groups do what things? What are the goals? Who is in charge of what? Be curious.

Overall, education, experience, people skills, willingness to do some of the dirty work, organizational knowledge, camaraderie and the like are what make for a good career.


Paul Leegard is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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