A career is an all-encompassing and complex system of life experiences, knowledge, and work. It’s interactive and dynamic. It evolves as you do. So have more than just a job- have a purpose.
Your career gives you a subjective sense of identity. It embodies your character because it shows how hard you work and what you believe in. You are a unique individual who has spent time learning various arts and sciences. You develop skills in areas that interest you. Your network of friends and colleagues support you and contribute to your growth. Your differences are your strengths.
No one could have forged the career path you have. Because of your individual experiences and skills, your career path won’t look like anyone else’s either. You can’t be “The Next [fill in iconic person here]”. You can be the successor to [iconic person], but the job you do will be different because technology matures, economies change, policies alter, and you don’t have the same background as [iconic person]. That’s good news!
What’s better news is that no job is as compartmentalized as its job description. You can give it your mark. You bring to each project a style unlike anyone else. The entire system of career progression has changed since your parents were your age. Employers want people who can do or learn what’s in the job description, but they hire the people they think can take their company forward by fulfilling the needs of a particular job and expanding its contribution towards company goals. That means breaking down barriers. That means making obstacles disappear. That means working without boundaries.
Boundaryless career attitudes describe non-traditional professional mentalities. It’s a progressive theory about people who drive their own career based on their values and personal work style. To have a boundaryless career attitude means seeking fulfillment-based progression. It’s being flexible and responsive to changing environments. It’s looking sideways, up, down, and in all directions when managing your career. It’s living a multifaceted life in order to enhance your career. And it’s immensely fulfilling.
To be boundaryless means that you are physically, mentally, and emotionally mobile. You can certainly be committed and dedicated, but you are able to make the necessary moves and adjustments based on the needs of the moment. It’s not a hasty or unrooted life either. You can still maintain stability, you just have to have a willingness to entertain the right amount of agility necessary to make progress towards goals- and those goals are often very big. Invest in your professional development, and be willing to make lateral career moves to enhance your knowledge, network, and experiences. This keeps your options open and allows space for unexpected great things to happen.
When you enjoy flexibility in work lifestyle, you will find a work-life balance, mobility, and an opportunity to match professional expectations to new job settings. You will have a perception of success not seen in traditional careerists. This is about mindset and expectations. What do you really want out of your career? Probably not 40 years at the same company doing a job in the field you trained in at twenty years old. There aren’t many jobs that allow this anyway. Rich careers involve unexpected moves, outside-of-scope education, and unusual turns in the road. And as you grow, your interests change. You will develop skills in different areas. Adding all of those experiences to your professional life increases passion in your personal life as well.
Doing “more” actually helps you excel in your career endeavors. The key is that the “more” has to involve intensity- practice, passion, and purpose. This is NOT multitasking. It is combining depth and breadth so that we multiply our creativity, critical thinking, and skills. How do you manage your career for maximum performance in a way that aligns with your personal and professional life’s mission? By removing your barriers.
When people use their talents and creative energies successfully in professional areas that are of interest and importance to them, they are psychologically satisfied and encouraged to achieve more.
What makes Serena Williams’ career great? Part of it is her immense athletic ability honed by years of working on her skills. But tennis is only part of her career. She’s a fashion designer, businesswoman, philanthropist, and actress. The key to boundarylessness is to see all of these things as part of the same career. Each part of her life and career provides inspiration for another. Every task helps her learn something different about herself, her mission, and her values. To see things differently is a real gift. For Serena, knowing about athletics and body movement helps her think differently about clothing fit and design. Being a role model helps her work with children in education and sports. Her travels let her look at schools in Kenya and UNICEF campaigns in a way that people without her unique experiences don’t understand. Her differences are her strengths. Her career is boundaryless.
Likewise, Sheryl Sandberg’s career has been anything but traditional. Do you know her only as the instigator of Lean In or the COO of Facebook? If so, then you’re missing the really great parts about taking advantages of opportunities as they came to her. She was the chief of staff for the Treasury Secretary. She’s an award-winning economist. She worked on health initiatives in India. She constantly strives to help others succeed. Each job was just part of an education and an experience that makes Sheryl Sheryl. She’s the embodiment of her parents’ influence and background, and the expression of all the skills she develops and network she builds. She’s a Sheryl no one else could be.
What is your career path? What does it look like when you add more skills, involve your personal interests in your professional life, practice that sport you learned in high school, work on that language you’d love to speak fluently, meet people outside of your normal circles, and travel to places you’ve never been? When you can make your work life evolve alongside and because of your personal evolution, then you’re boundaryless.
The emphasis here is to reframe occupational vocabulary. Boundaries are only obstacles within the rhetoric that tells us to stay inside our job description. But careers should be seen as a series of accomplishments built upon and leveraged for future undertakings. We can use our skills and experiences in their entirety to create value for our companies and enhance our life’s mission. Our best work comes when we know ourselves fully, employ and build our skillset constantly, and become part of a network of psychologically driven people who escalate our competencies.
You can add excellence to your career endeavors by embracing boundarylessness. You will suddenly see opportunities where none existed before. Adaptation will become easy because you’ll be open to learning and your world will grow. Repurpose your job into a mission. Live a rich life. Use all of your skills to add excellence to your endeavors. Your career will surprise you as it unexpectedly blossoms into one you never thought it could be.
This article was originally published in NAWMBA, The Official Magazine of The National Association of Women MBAs.