The first time I heard the word career was in a high school business class. “You want to make sure you choose the right career, something you are really passionate in,” she said. “If you choose the wrong career, you may later come to regret that decision.” At the time I was sixteen years old. For years, I had been traveling with my parents to Amway conventions; most of these adventures I spent a majority of my time in the hotel room watching movies, swimming in the pool, or exploring the hotel for any secrets it might hold, but in recent years I had begun to attend the actual seminars, and when I turned 16 I bought my first IBO Kit (Independent Business Owner) and then presented my “business opportunity” to my biology teacher, Mr. Cross.
Mr. Cross was known as one of the strictest teachers in the school… or perhaps even the universe. Never smiling, his brow always settled in a comfortable suspension-bridge shaped arc, his bright eyes behind a set of thick glasses, his tall spindly body hovering over students like an ominous shadow. So I decided that he would be my first, because I do enjoy a challenge. I didn’t know it then, but he was also my last. No, he didn’t dissuade me from becoming a millionaire, but he did allow me into his home, he spoke with me not as a teacher but took me seriously, and he wasn’t intimidating at all. He revealed to me something that would later become part of my ethos: that being a teacher didn’t mean that when you left school you carried your job on your back, but outside of the classroom, a teacher was as real as any other man, someone who sat on his couch in his pajamas and watched late night sitcoms, or someone who despite bringing piles of work back to grade, relaxed with some jazz and a cup of tea. The career doesn’t make the man, I learned. The man makes the career.
Fifteen years later I stopped struggling. I became a teacher.
Edgar Schein, more famous for his organizational opus, “Organizational Culture and Leadership” (1992), also was the author of a self-assessment called “Career Anchors” (2006). Schein begins by describing the inner career as a “self-image of competencies, motives, and values” (Loc 85), where competencies are defined as talents and skills, motives defined as aspirations and hopes, and values defined as character, beliefs, and priorities. For Schein, the anchor is a self-assessment which allows a person to understand the drives of his or her inner career (the self-image), and then once understood can more easily manipulate the external career (horizontal, vertical, or inward steps toward advancement) to better suit the purposes of that particular anchor (of which Schein lists eight). The anchor acts as a stable force which provides momentum and direction for movement in an organization or company and allows the worker self-direction and awareness of why he or she is drawn to particular types of work, or why the worker’s dissatisfaction erupts in overcompensating time spent in hobbies, second jobs, or leisure activities (Loc 160).
As confusing and fragmented as it is, experience more than any other power transforms our abilities and goals. Schein focuses on self-assessment and believes that by defining and clarifying one’s primary career anchors, he or she can become more fully developed. Schein lists eight career anchors: 1)technical/functional, 2)general managerial, 3)autonomy/independence, 4)security/stability, 5)entrepreneurial creativity, 6)service/dedication to a cause, 7)pure challenge, and 8)lifestyle. For an organization to be truly efficient and utilize their staff, they need to treat career anchors as strengths. 1)Specialists should be utilized in areas that requires concentration and focus, 2)problem-solvers should be given direct access to conflict, 3)agents should be the external arm of the organization, 4)pillars should be embedded deep in the organizational and offered opportunities to solidify and recognize loyalty and thereby keep the organizational solid, 5)creators should be given the freedom, incentive, and support to be innovative, 6)influencers should be placed at strategic locations in the organization to serve in capacities which drive organizational ethical standards, 7)warriors should be positioned in the hardest zones of disagreement with goals firmly communicated and rules of compromise fully explored, and 8)integrators should be the barometers of health in an organization, queried at periodic times to make sure the organization is healthy and thriving. By transforming the self-assessment of career anchors into action-oriented positioning, an organization can more fully appreciate the diversity present instead of using the self-assessment tool as a repatriation tool or mere encouragement for a single worker to take his or her career more seriously.
Our self-perceptions are the primarily limitation of the career anchor as a tool. Before I took the assessment I read through his book and came to the conclusion that my career anchors be service/dedication to a cause, entrepreneurial creativity, and autonomy/independence, as I identified strongly with those three in my personal belief system. However, after taking the assessment, I discovered something surprising: my three top career anchors were actually service/dedication to a cause, lifestyle, and technical/functional. Initially when reading through the descriptions of lifestyle and technical/functional, I scoffed at both but for different reasons. I believed that people who tested as lifestyle were more concerned with a life free of responsibility, and that people who tested as technical/functional were droll and boring. However, I realized that my own self-perception was flawed, and that my actions were a stronger reflection than my ideals.
For years I struggled with the concept of career, ever since I first heard the word in my high school business class. I was a bookseller, a secretary, an undertaker (yes, I was), a videographer, a poet, a columnist, a projectionist, a lobbyist, a security guard, and a day care counselor. Nothing seemed to fit. “The rest of your life,” my high school business teacher might have said, “is defined by your choice of career.” Of course, she was wrong. Our lives are not defined by our careers; rather, we define our careers. The day I realized this, I was standing in front of a mirror, and on the other side of the mirror I saw Mr. Cross staring back at me, but with one difference: I was smiling.
Schein, E. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schein, E. (2006). Career anchors: Participant workbook (Kindle version). San Francisco: Pfieffer.