Building a Successful Career Path: What Is Your Context?

Career Path: Find the Right Context

As you plan and adapt your career, I have a suggestion.  Instead of just thinking about pay or any other specific aspect or perk of your career path, think of the overall context.

Let me explain.  Context is not the exact same as pay, benefits, or even work-place culture.  It is a combination of all of these, plus the bigger picture of what you are doing, where, and with whom.

Does your current career context involve physical work or mental work?  Where do you have to live in this context?  Huge cities, the country, anywhere you want?  Is the context service to others (nurse) or maximizing your financial well-being (professional poker player) or some combination of both?  Do you work closely on teams or solo?

What is Your Ideal Career Context?​

I suggest you think about what your ideal career path context would look like.  For example, for me the ideal context includes the following:

--Highly productive

--Lots of autonomy

--Working with others

--Using my mind

--Being creative

--Something that leads to my own prosperity (it pays well)

--Service to others

--Part of something larger (not just money)

Let me give you another example of workplace context.  Over the course of my career, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of portfolio managers and hedge fund managers.  These guys (they were almost all guys) were super bright and polite people.  I liked them in general.  That said, I do not think I would enjoy working in their context.  There is a mercenary quality to what they do: find financial edges and exploit them while ignoring almost all other considerations.  Also, that context would generally require living in a massive, expensive city.  Frankly, I had the sense they were simply making rich people richer (assuming they actual made any money).  Not my ideal context.

Context Gives You a Better Feel for the Big Picture of Your Career Path

For me, thinking in terms of contexts allows a more intuitive grasp of whether I would like certain work.  It's a much stronger framework than just analyzing pay and benefits.  I suggest you create a document that lists how your ideal context would look.  What type of work?  Where do you work?  On teams or solo?  Mental or physical (or both)?  Etc.…  The context framework may help clarify your thinking about your career path--where you are in your life and work and where you want to go.

I would like to close by emphasizing that you should not expect the context in which you work to align perfectly with the ideal you map out.  Life is not that cut and dry.  It is full of trade-offs.  Be careful about trying so hard to over-optimize that you don't get anywhere.  The ideal context is something to lean towards, but be slow to blow up your professional life just because one or two things don't line up….