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I’d like to give you a perspective on your job vs. your career that is not only important but freeing in a way: Your career is more important than your job. Here’s what I mean.

Your career is a journey. You define where you want to go on that journey. You plan it out. You set goals. Your journey – and thus your career – is aligned with you.

As unexpected things happen on your journey, you make decisions and adjustments along the way. But generally you think of it as big picture and long term.

Your job, on the other hand, is a step along the way. It’s one short trip in that long journey. You can plan some of those steps and short trips. But you don’t have total control of what happens. 

Job opportunities are neither constant nor always predictable. They’re more fluid and temporary.

You want to ensure your career continues to align with you. That it’s successful as you define successful. Your jobs are the means to help you do that. 

So do well in your job. Learn and grow. Make your contribution there. But if your job no longer serves your career, move on. Your career is more important than your job. Don’t lose the forest for the trees. Don’t lose sight of your career by focusing too hard on your job.

How You Might Lose Sight of Your Career by Focusing on Your Job

I can give you some example scenarios to clarify how you might lose sight of your career by focusing too much on your job. Here are 6 common mistakes engineers make that slow down or divert career progress:

  1. Viewing your job as the goal. People who make this mistake don’t view their job as a stepping stone – as a means to an end. Instead they view it as an end in itself. 

Once they’re in that job, they feel like they’ve arrived at their destination. At least at this point in their careers, they don’t – or are unable to – have a long-term view. 

  1. Job loitering or attachment. Job loitering means getting overly comfortable in your current job and hanging out there for too long. 

Another version of this mistake is getting too attached to or even possessive of your job and not wanting to let it go. You might believe you’re the only one who can do this job and therefore can’t leave. 

People making this mistake tend to ignore other opportunities. Effectively you’re stuck and you no longer grow and learn. 

  1. Striving for perfection. I’ve made this mistake myself. It’s easy to do. Basically you believe you have more room to grow where you are so you don’t move on. 

The tricky part is it’s probably true that you can grow more where you are. But it blinds you to the fact that you’re ready to take on more challenge and you’re missing out on better opportunities. 

You’re thinking of your job more than your career. You’re striving for perfection where you are at the expense of stretching into higher level and more impactful roles.

  1. Leading with your ego instead of your energetic center. This mistake happens when you lose sight of your authenticity and the personal meaning you give to your career and vision.

Then you fall into this trap of focusing on the money or the prestige that results from the job rather than what’s meaningful in your career. Rather than the talent you can apply, the impact you can have, or all you can learn. 

You’re trading temporary satisfaction for the long term investment in yourself as a person, an engineer, and a leader. 

  1. Exaggerating loyalty. As the name implies, people who make this mistake are extremely loyal to their organization or mission. To the point that they stay in an undesirable job to uphold that loyalty. 

Sometimes you think you have to “serve your time” before you can leave. In extreme cases you may choose to endure toxic situations or abusive people, believing that leaving the job would look bad. No job is worth that – for you or your career.

  1. Believing that you own your job. Believing that you have total control over your job. That nothing can interfere with it and no one can take it away. 

This mistake happens to you when you are so personally invested in the people or the goals or the work itself that you can’t pivot when the environment changes.

Then, when there are shifts in mission priority, technology, or customer requirements, you tend to be inflexible. You don’t allow yourself to evolve. You’re sort of holding on to your job for dear life instead of thinking about your career as a whole.

Own Your Engineering Career, Not Your Job

Think of your job as temporary. After all it can be cancelled or defunded or downsized at any time. (And you should not take that personally.) Each job is a stepping stone along your path. There’s an optimal amount of time to stay in each one. 

At the point where you’ve honed some skills and gained the right amount of experience, you should prepare yourself to move on. And take the next challenging opportunity as soon as possible.

Your skills and strengths are portable and can be applied elsewhere to continue building your career. In this way you master your engineering abilities and mature your professional development.

Think of your career as having more permanence. Even though it’s changeable, it’s more foundational and intransient. You can own your career. You can’t own your job.

Next time on Her Engineering Career Podcast I’ll bring you some secrets to good mentorship. Be sure to tune in for Episode 48.

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