Look at your career through several of these...

June 9, 2020 at 9:49 AM


In my job as a headhunter, I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about their careers, and how they conceptualize, construct and take stock of them.

In broad terms, a career is defined as the ‘course of one’s public or professional life’.  It is an abstract construct, encompassing directions, themes, and the sum of decisions over time. Everyone has a personal lens through which they look at their own careers, an image if you will of what a career is. Some visualize climbing ladders or striving for lofty peaks.  Others use the imagery of a journey, with signposts marking milestones along the path. For some there is a target destination while others are content to have the road take them where it may. Some describe being on a fast or slow track, while others are on the wrong track or covet to get back on track.  Others lament being stuck in a rut or at a dead end. Some conceptualize their career as a puzzle, with variously shaped pegs and holes into which they seek a fit for themselves in the wide world of work. Finally, some use the imagery of seasons, cycles, ages and stages through which they transition and interact with time.

While metaphors are immensely helpful in framing and understanding our work lives, individual metaphors can also constrain us if relied upon exclusively. For example, while viewing careers as a competition, race or climb to the top may focus and motivate us, it also reduces complex experiences to win/lose contests and can unnecessarily disappoint. Similarly, viewing a career as a single, unidirectional journey leaves little room for experimentation and variation. Meanwhile, seasonality suggests a certain inevitability with the passage of time and an accompanying waxing and waning of energy and drive. Such a view might be detrimental when responding to unexpected change or contemplating starting over. Pegs and holes metaphors suggest that we are each best suited to specific roles, contexts and companies rather than being adaptable to many.  It is a static view in an anything but static time for individuals and companies. Overall, any single metaphor, while persuasive, may also be used to deceive, and even to see things that are not there.

Every metaphor has its strengths and weaknesses, as well as applicability and non-applicability to specific situations. And while relying upon a single metaphor may constrain a holistic view of our work lives, grasping at every metaphor will likely confuse, even obstruct the ability to discern patterns.  A start might be to reflect upon the perspectives embedded in a few alternative metaphors including those that people are creating and turning to in a dizzying world.

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements. 

Contact Robert by email at rhebert@stonewoodgroup.com or call (1) 416-365-9494 Ext. 777