Today, entire industries are collapsing at record speed. Trusted skill sets have become obsolete and new skills are in demand. In the midst of this unparalleled scope and speed of change, our future rests in our ability to sustain a credible career identity that is flexible, adaptable and embraces an inclusive, multi-cultural and global awareness.

Anonymous Business Woman

How many times can one person experience an identity crisis?
Yes, that’s right…there have been several.
When I finished high school I knew that I would major in music. There was no question in my mind that I was a headed for a music career. After college, I landed a job teaching at a state university and for over 15 years worked my way up through the ranks. Then came the first identity crisis—the “all too real” glass ceiling.

Over time I retooled my skills and conducted a semi-professional orchestra. My job was unexpectedly terminated— identity crisis Number 2. I went back to school for a performance degree and studied with a world-class conductor and pedagogue. After graduation while applying for new positions— 9/11. My entire industry took a hit***—identity crisis Number 3. I had to scramble.

I landed a corporate position as a Quality Control Analyst, then as a Training Director, but I was laid off after 15 months. With the help of some excellent career coaching I reinvented myself as a project manager and after 8 months re-entered the corporate landscape. Did you catch identity crisis Number 4?

Five years later, after I had transitioned to Human Resources, most of my division was laid off and the human resource labor pool hit market saturation. Meet identity crisis Number 5. I started my own business a year later in 2007. This is the sixth year of operations and I realize I’m going to make it.

As odd as it seems, I have already planned my next career identity and hope to achieve it within seven years. I’m no longer a victim. I’ve taken charge.

What is Career Identity?
My definition:

Career identity is the distinction given to ourselves or by an outside entity that defines the nature of the value that we bring to the work place. For example, Project Manager, Receptionist, Customer Service Representative, and Curriculum Designer.


Are people simply ambivalent about their careers?
Dr. Judith Sherven, PhD (who has over 6,400 followers on LinkedIn!), wrote the article: Why People Are So Afraid to Own Their Careers.

The primary reasons people gave were:

  1. Self-promotion is uncomfortable,
  2. Office politics are “demeaning” and,
  3. Reducing one’s career to a 90 second elevator speech is unreasonable and they didn’t know where to start.

All these reasons are truly valid and they are all personal. The career crises in my career were a combination of individual crises and global and systemic changes that were completely out of my ability to influence.

NOTE: Dr. Sherven gives excellent tips on how to mentally process the primary reasons people gave for their personal career identity. She also brings action steps to manage those challenges. If you relate, please read the article.

Digital microcircuit

New causes of a career identity crisis:
There are probably as many reasons for a career identity crisis as there are people who have experienced them. With the speed of change that is affecting commerce, I believe there are critical components that factors into the equation. Failure to do so is to be left on the side of the road.

The Great Recession, new advancements in technology, and demographic changes in our labor pool have, in my opinion, brought about identity crises for segments of the working population.

Here are a few examples:

  • In the U.S. in 2012, college grads faced a combined unemployment and underemployment rate of 52 percent. This is partially a result of the high number of Millennials entering the workforce.
  • Tablets and other technologies have brought changes to the printing industry, especially newsprint.
  • Global communications have, in part, laid the foundation for countless technology jobs to migrate offshore to India and beyond.
  • With the emergence of social media, the marketing industry has changed dramatically and new skill sets have emerged as the former trusted skillsets have become obsolete.

These and other change-agents have brought to the fore, the need to hone the skills to be able to change career identities throughout our work-life.

Gone are the days of the gold watch!
That’s right. There was a time when a person started their career with one specific job. Perhaps they processed orders, sold products, or analyzed business needs. They expected to stay with “their” company for the duration of their career. They looked forward, “with great pride” to the day they received a gold watch.

Not anymore.

Today, we are expected to change jobs every three or four years. The very work we perform at the workplace will not likely be there in four years (so thirty-five years…?). And finally, the gold watch. It too has become a relic.

Tips on creating your career identity:
Whether you are a recent graduate trying to establish your career identity, or you already have career experience:

  • Be selective in your networking activities so there is time to establish real relationships and genuinely demonstrate your value to select members in your network. Choose carefully.
  • Routinely and intentionally find people that you respect and can serve as accountability partners. These are people you get to know well and connect with on a regular basis. Choose thoughtfully.
  • Identify quality leaders and visionaries in your industry and follow them. Choose broadly. When an opportunity arises to connect with them, do so.
  • Especially if you are in your early career, find mentors who will challenge you and champion you on your career path. Choose wisely.
  • If you are in your mid or late career, select and mentor individuals who are finding their way. Choose liberally.
  • Make a commitment to your industry, to be informed and aware of the factors that may cause a change in direction.
  • Remain flexible, keep a global perspective, and be willing to embrace new cultures and new technologies.

Aspiration Leadership Solutions

A four and eight year plan:

  1. Think about the kind of positions or roles you would like to fill in eight years.
  2. Ask, “What kind of people are selected for these positions?” These become your target positions in four years. (Search for job postings and check out the Requirements to find the needed skills, experience, and training.)
  3. Now ask what kind of position you need now to be ready for the next step in four years.
  4. These are the positions you should apply for now.
  5. Once you land a job, watch for changes in your industry and adjust your four and eight year goals to change with the future forecast.

*** Since 9/11 an orchestra has closed its doors every week. That’s approximately 630 orchestras.

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