You’re More Than a Job Title: Breaking Free From the Career Cocoon

Empowered to Lead

Do You Think Your Job Description Defines Your Career? 

On a recent visit to New Orleans, my taxi driver asked where I was visiting from, and I told him Florida – he said, “ I feel stuck – stuck in my existence” I asked him why he felt that way? He explained that he’s lived in New Orleans his entire life, and he never ventured outside of his community. He expressed that he couldn’t entertain the thought of leaving the only place he’s ever known. He said, “I am miserable here, but I just can’t see beyond where I am right now.” He added, “I know they’re places outside of here but what would that look like?” I asked him why he felt that this was his only option in life? His response, “I can’t see beyond right here – this is all I know, I don’t want to know the unknown.”

As the conversation progressed on our short ride, I thought, how could you create a geographic box that prevents you from seeing the future? I realized that there’s a huge part of our population that makes an initial career choice, and find it utterly impossible to change course or even think beyond the vortex surrounding their careers. In the midst of their maelstrom, most individuals have lost the passion for the work they do. But, they cannot admit that to themselves and venture out to find their real passion. They’ve boxed themselves into a career cocoon.

What is a Career Cocoon?

A self-imposed envelope and protective barrier built by your job title, job description or lofty visions for your career that produces an isolated tunnel vision that stops you from advancing or finding the passion in your work.

The career cocoon starts at one of three points in your journey – at the beginning of your career; as you gain experience and when you become experts in your chosen field. Have you ever talked to someone who said, “I’ve been doing this for years, I hate it, but this is all I know?” They started out on their career journey with lofty goals, then as they progressed and gained experience those goals became deferred dreams, and when they became experts, the original goal becomes a should have, could have, but didn’t happen – forgotten dream.

The career trap door is open and waiting, when you are:

  • A New Entrant with a loft vision of what your career path should be or could become. 
  • Experienced with a career trajectory that is based on your job title and built around a particular industry niched into a job but not focused on a long-term vision.
  • An Expert locked into a career path, where you’re so good at what you do, but blinders prevent you from seeing beyond the desk you occupy, and even more troubling you’re scared to death of course correction.

Each category can lock you into permanent career traps that can be hard to move beyond. New entrants have a vision that may not be realistic; experienced workers build their careers like a laser and may not focus on the changing global world around them. These workers often find their positions eliminated during economic downturns. Experts, on the other hand, have tunnel vision similar to the views expressed by the taxi driver. They’ve spent years building their career to an experts level any shift in the marketplace or course correction is almost fatal. Global changes affect experts much more drastically than people who keep their pulse on the evolving workforce.

How do you advance your career and avoid the “Career Cocoon” Syndrome?

Avoiding the career cocoon requires insight. Whether you’re new to the workforce or an expert in your chosen specialty – you must be open to looking beyond where you are right now. The workforce is no longer local – all work is global and mobile. Staying two steps ahead of the curve and knowing when to take the leap from the desk you occupy is essential. Selecting your career path requires clarity; you must be clear about your intentions, and you must understand that career decisions aren’t written in granite – change is inevitable. If you’re down the career pathway, you have to keep your eyes on the shifting global workforce trends. You must be mindful of what can affect your career. You should ask critical questions like: What would a job elimination mean for you? What happens if your company is acquired or shuts down completely, like what’s going on to the employees with Sports Authority, can you pivot? Are your skills relevant, transferable, and in demand? If not, how do you use your current experience to move swiftly in a new direction?

Keenly focus on developing your skills and spend less time focusing on the title of the position you hold. 

Every decision that you make about your career or life can be adjusted and changed. Your vision today, doesn’t dictate your reality tomorrow. Sometimes we’re so caught up in our job title that we loose sight of our real vision. Without career vision, we stop asking for what we want and settle for what our employers hand us; our vision becomes hazy, and we miss opportunities to advance our careers effectively. Clarity and vision are the essential ingredients to navigate your career successfully. Be clear about what you want as you navigate your chosen career path. You are more than a “Job Title” – you are a phenomenal individual whose contribution to the global workforce is essential. Break free from the Career Cocoon and become the person you’ve always wanted to be.

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