Building Your Career

building your career

There are many strategies you can use to select and plan a career path, but perhaps the two most basic patterns are bottom-up and top-down.

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Bottom-up career planning

Bottom-up career planning means figuring out how you can best take advantage of the career building blocks you already possess.  It’s a low-level, objective method of planning.

Perhaps the simplest form of bottom-up planning is when you pass a store window with a “Help Wanted” sign, and you apply for a job there because it’s available and because you think it’s a halfway decent fit for you.  A more complex method of bottom-up planning involves assessing your needs and qualifications in order to figure out what line of work would best suit you.  Then you might create a resume and start looking for work based on what positions you feel qualified for, or you might go freelance and/or build a business around your capabilities.  In the back of your mind, you’re asking, “What kind of job should I get?” or “What kind of work am I qualified to do?”

Bottom-up career planning is pretty much the de facto standard.  When people do any serious career planning at all, they almost always use a bottom-up strategy.  The very act of creating a resume is largely a bottom-up process.

Have you ever taken one of those career assessment tests?  This is a lengthy multiple-choice test that’s supposed to help you determine what kind of career would best suit you.  It asks strange questions like, “Would you rather watch an opera, a political rally, or a fire?”  Then it compares your answers to those of various career professionals in its database.  The results tell you which careers are filled with people who think like you do.

Top-down career planning

Top-down career planning means getting in touch with who you really are at your deepest level and figuring out the best way to outwardly express and share that core value with the world.  This is a high-level subjective method of planning.

A very simple form of top-down planning would be to say, “I really resonate with the concept of courage, so I’m going to make a career out of being courageous.”  But of course you can delve much deeper into your values, character, and other soulful attributes to come up with a more detailed career concept.  In the back of your mind, you’re asking, “Who am I really?”

Top-down career planning is much less common than bottom-up.  Top-down is sometimes seen in artistic fields like music, art, and drama, but even then it’s rare to see it executed consciously.  For example, deciding to be a musician because you love music is still bottom-up.

Many people have done top-down exercises such as clarifying their values or writing a mission statement, but they rarely take the process far enough to actually develop those core ideas into a full-time career.  This is why you see people with mission statements like, “I want to use music to teach people unconditional love and compassion” who work in retail sales.

Bottom-up vs. top-down career planning

Bottom-up career planning starts with the practical, low-level, physical aspects of a career.  It regards things like salary, qualifications, security, perks, and potential for advancement as the most important elements to get right.  Once you have those things in place, it’s up to you to do the best you can to enjoy it.

Top-down career planning starts with the high-level, spiritual and emotional aspects of a career.  It regards creative self-expression as the most important element to get right.  Once you have an outlet for creatively expressing the real you, you then work through the practical issues of developing your skills and generating income to meet your physical needs.

Both strategies have their strengths and weaknesses, so a balanced approach seems wise. What would this combo look like?  It means that you’d invest the bulk of your career planning efforts into figuring out who you really are, getting in touch with your core values, and deciding what it is you really want to express to the world.  The result of that would basically be a statement of purpose that deeply resonates with you.  Once you have this, you’re really 80% of the way.

If you put bottom-up planning ahead of top-down planning, you’re putting the cart before the horse.  That approach just won’t yield the right level of clarity.  It’s not a good way to consciously build a fulfilling career.  It’s like looking at the ground to explore the stars.

People who center their career paths around their qualifications, skills, and salary requirements so often end up miserable — or at the very least disillusioned — even when they seem to be thriving from an objective standpoint.  It’s rough when people succeed in getting what they asked for, only to realize they asked for the wrong thing.  After 10-20 years, they’re dying inside while their souls are screaming for them to just stop and quit everything… invariably to move to a career that will serve as a better outlet for their creative self-expression.

Just because you can do something and get paid well for it doesn’t mean you should.  Don’t confuse your medium with your message.  You’ll be much more fulfilled if you pursue a career that allows you to express your true self as fully as possible.  Then educate yourself, practice, and build your skills to get good at compatible forms of expression until you can abundantly satisfy your physical needs.  That may take some time, but if you’re really expressing your true self, the process should be fun and enjoyable.

Your optimal career is simply this:  Share the real you with the physical world through the process of creative self-expression.  In order to do that, however, you must first discover the real you.  But it makes no sense to choose a medium for self-expression, such as being a doctor, writer, or entrepreneur, until you first determine what it is you’re going to express.

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