What Is an Authentic Career, Anyway?

The idea of having an “authentic career” sounds great, doesn’t it? But what does it mean?

"Le récital" by Spigoo, on FlickrI like this definition of authenticity – “the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character”, despite “external forces, pressures, and influences”.

Some people seem to know from an early age exactly what they want to do when they grow up, and then go on to do it. They not only do it, but they remain happy in their chosen careers.

They get it right the first time.

Getting Off Track

But most of us don’t. For whatever reason, we get off track. We “forget” those talents that come so naturally for us. We stop believing in ourselves and our dreams.

Have you ever heard things like, “forget that dream, it’s not practical”, or “you should do something that will make more money”, or “who do you think you are to believe you can do that”?

I grew up in a family that valued logic and facts. My strengths, on the other hand, include intuition and empathy. Being intuitive allows me to see solutions quickly and usually accurately. But I can’t easily give a step-by-step account of how I reached my conclusions. So it’s not surprising that I was seen as “too” sensitive and emotional.

These are the very qualities that allow me to be an effective career coach. But when I was younger, the message I got was that my way of being was wrong. I found it easier over time to just fit in, to take the path of least resistance.

Second Chances

For those of us who didn’t get it right the first time, our second chance often comes in midlife. It’s our chance to get back on track, to rid ourselves of the “shoulds” and “oughts” of others. Because it’s often in midlife that we feel an urge to be more authentic.

An authentic career is about being you. Not trying to live up to others’ definitions of success or their idea of the perfect career for you.

An authentic career is an extension of who you are, a blend of your strengths, values, and personality. That’s not to say that authentic work is easy. If it’s truly authentic, it will stretch you and, at times, may even feel too large for you.

In fact, as you begin working and living authentically, you’ll likely feel a sense of responsibility to share your gifts with others.

Finding Your Authentic Career

Finding your authentic career involves knowing who you are. Here are some things you can do to “get back on track”.

  • Take some time to re-discover who you are
  • Honor that voice inside and see where it leads you
  • Express the truth of who you are
  • Take a stand, take responsibility for your beliefs and actions, and be proactive
  • Become aware of your values, preferences, and beliefs – and then base your actions and decisions on that knowledge
  • Follow your purpose and passion!

When your work is authentic, your life and work blend together naturally. There’s no longer any need to dread Monday mornings or live for Fridays.

Now I’m curious. What does “authentic career” mean to you?

Photo credit: Spigoo / CC license

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{ 6 comments… add one }

  • After 28 years of self-employment, I’m at this authenticity cross-road…. Proving oneself is a whole lot less important at age 56. Even though there are many mountains I’ved not climbed yet, I’m tired of climbing mountains just because they’re there. Need a different reason for doing whatever I do — like, because I want to put good energy into the world that makes me feel good about myself.

    Any suggestions for turning off the critical voice that makes it hard to be open to alternatives?

    • Janet, thanks for being the first to comment on my new blog! Yes, I agree with you that proving oneself becomes less important after 50. There may still be mountains to climb, but hopefully they’re of your own making.

      As for that critical voice, this may sound counter-intuitive, but instead of trying to ignore it, get to know it. Really listen to what it’s saying to you – all those reasons it gives you for not being open to alternatives. Lay them out on the table, write them down. Gently acknowledge these messages as a part of who you are that wants to protect you from change.

      Once you get to know that voice, you’ll be in a position where you can choose to say “no thanks” to its negative messages, and consciously replace them with positive statements and actions.

      Best wishes to you!

      ~ Janet

  • Your ‘counter-intuitive’ advice is good advice. I’m going to do that. I relaunched myself in January, freshly divorced and a single mom, into a new solo business in a new city. Networking like crazy, but I wax warm and cold on (a) whether I can do this and (b) is this what I WANT to do. Taking this month to try to get clear and regroup… no success will come unless I’m clear!

    • I love your word, “relaunched”! Sounds like you’re starting over in many ways. Kudos to you for giving yourself some time to be clear about what you want.

      ~ Janet

  • Anne Sibell

    Interesting topic! When a person is feeling burnt out and stuck authentic career seems so far fetched, yet most of us have this nagging feeling there is something more to life that we can contribute and make a living at the same time.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Anne! Yes, when you’re feeling stuck it’s hard to see what could be possible. It’s so worthwhile to take some time to get back in touch with what’s most important to you.

      I think another thing that keeps so many of us stuck is our reliance on traditional full-time jobs to provide us with regular paychecks. Can we really count on that type of work anymore?

      Some people are finding that they can both contribute and make a living through more flexible options, such as part-time work, shorter-term projects, contract or freelance work, or self-employment. Many are combining two or more interests into a “portfolio career” that provides multiple sources of income. Sometimes it takes looking at things differently to be able to see the possibilities.

      I wish you all the best.

      ~ Janet

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