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Your Lifelong Journey


Photo Credit: Daniel Roe

Did you know that typical Americans average 10 different jobs in their lifetime? It's a fact, and it means that your career — the series of jobs you'll have — is truly a journey of many steps.

Your journey could include education and experience in a specific occupation and jobs in the same field or career cluster. Or it could include jobs in completely different areas. In the end, it is the sum of all your experiences that shapes you.

What's a Job vs. a Career?

A job can be considered simply going to work to earn a paycheck. A career is the journey that includes all your jobs, experiences, and training. The real difference between a job and a career is your attitude. People who want a career are always thinking about their long-term goals. They are thinking about what they can do now to make those goals happen in the future.

Beginning job seekers often must "pay their dues." This means that if you have little experience, you'll have to work hard and often for little money. Often beginning job seekers want to earn big paychecks and have the job duties that come with higher-level positions. They don't realize it might take a few years to get to that level. But while lower-level jobs might pay less and have less glamorous job duties, they can lead to great opportunities.

Think of it this way: if life were a video game, a job would be just one level. Having a career means that you are committed to playing the game to get better over time and advance to higher levels.

How Do You Advance on Your Journey?

Think of your career journey as climbing a ladder. Each step of the ladder could be a job that gives you a unique experience. At one job, you might pick up new skills. At another, you might gain a new interest. In all of your jobs, you'll collect valuable experience. Eventually, you can reach your goal at the top of the ladder.

Examples of Job Paths

Maybe your dream is to work as a director of marketing for a professional sports team.

  • You might start by volunteering as an usher at the stadium.
  • In school, you'll work toward a marketing degree.
  • During college, you could work part time in the ticket office.
  • You might work as someone's assistant after graduation.
  • From there, you might work as a sales or promotions associate.
  • Maybe you'll be promoted to marketing manager.
  • Finally, work your way up the ladder to being the director of marketing.

Each occupation has a different path or ladder. And most entry-level jobs lead to more than one type of upper-level job.

Career Management

It's important to understand that the choices you make now will impact your future. All of your activities, volunteer work, and part-time jobs are steps on your career ladder. Keep these things in mind:

  • Stay current in your chosen career field. Active involvement in professional and trade associations allow you to see industry trends and to build good professional relationships.
  • Lifelong learning is important. You might consider short-term training opportunities.
  • Balance work and life.
  • Develop values and a sense of purpose.
  • People naturally change over time, so assess your career goals frequently.
  • Review the Career Planning Cycle (87KB, .pdf) for an overview of career management.