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3 Questions for Career Path Nirvana

  |  April 6, 2011   |  Comments

Not energized by your job? It's time to stop making donuts.

Your career has the single biggest impact on your life. (Sorry, significant other.) You will likely spend two-thirds of your waking hours devoted to your career. It offers the potential to give you support, security, eventual freedom, and most important – fulfillment you need for happiness. A job, on the other hand, is something you do. Something you wake up to and work through with the goal of getting it done. The iconic Dunkin' Donuts commercial comes to mind – the one where Fred the Baker, who looks like a character out of Nintendo's Mario Brothers, trudges off to work repeating the mantra, "Time to make the donuts."

If you're in online marketing or seek to be, don't let the opportunity of a lifetime slip away by doing what you should do versus what you want to do.

Now that I've stated the obvious, let's address the three big choices you must make to have a career instead of a job. Ask yourself:

  • Why do you want a career?
  • What career path do you to take to become a generalist or specialist?
  • How are you going to pave the path and take action?

In digital marketing, it's quite easy. You just need to answer and act.

Choice no. 1: Do you want a career or not?

When the alarm clock goes off, we have two options. Get up or hit snooze. If you consistently hit the snooze button, that's a sign that your job may not be an inspiring career. But, that's not the question you should ask yourself. The questions you should ask are:

"Am I excited about the day ahead? Am I excited about the challenges I need to address, the project I am working on, the people I am working with, and the path before me to build my career? Am I mentally jumping out of bed or am I begrudgingly going in to make the donuts?" Again, the most profound things in life are usually the most simple. But most people don't do this kind of self-assessment. Why? A) They are afraid of the answer and what it takes to actually change that and B) they feel too busy with busy work to think about the big picture.

Maybe the question should be a statement, "Wake up to your happiness and stop hitting the snooze button of fear or malaise."

Choice no. 2: What path you do want to take?

Do you prefer to be a generalist or specialist?

This question comes up a lot on our Online Marketing Summit Spring/Summer Tour across the United States and around the world. Basically it means you either know a little bit about everything or a lot about one thing. Inherently, it's a great thought because it means you must decide where you should beef up your skills and focus your education. That's where the journey between career and job diverges. Those interested in pursuing a career take the initiative to educate themselves, by reading, taking courses, and learning from others.

Back to the question, a generalist usually suits certain personality types and career aspirations. For example, if you are someone who wants to manage or run the entire web services or e-commerce division of your company or future employer, then becoming a generalist will serve you well. Why? You can keep a handle on all aspects of the business, from analytics to user experience, email marketing to SEO and beyond. Also, if you are not juiced about one single facet of the industry, you should consider following the path of generalist. For many, becoming a generalist may be your initial path; you may become a specialist after you get a feel for all the disciplines. It's the old adage that I have repeated many times, "How do you know what you want to do in life and career, until you have actually done it?"

The specialist usually emerges quickly. This is someone who loves details and peels back the onion again and again. Analytics is a great example. Digging into the data and the constant quest for answering, "Why?" or "What does this mean?" has web analytic experts jumping out of bed in the morning. For many, social media is deeply fascinating because of the human behavioral aspects. In contrast, those engaged in social media because it's all the rage will be left in the dust of those passionate about it. The specialist, too, is usually someone who likes to get into the nitty gritty of the initiative at hand and is less apt to wanting to coalesce the group or manage the masses. Consultants, analysts, and real gurus fall here.

Over the past decade in online marketing, I've noticed one other issue: many people fall into a confused state or lull because they have become a specialist by default because they worked in a certain department or company for a few years. But they are really like the more gregarious generalist who excels at pulling together projects and working with a team to do so. My advice: don't let your career be driven by your past; let your past serve as a path to what you want to do and follow your passion.

Sometimes this means taking a half step back to give you the room to take the leap forward down a new, more exciting career path.

Choice no. 3: Do you think digital is amazing?

If you are in the industry and not answering that question with a "Hell, yes!" then it's time to reassess. If you are not in the industry and heading this way, let me tell you, it just doesn't get any better than this. I've seen interns become senior directors at agencies within three years. It's crazy good right now and there's no end in sight. Shed your fear, make the effort, and for those that have already done so, it is your societal duty to guide others on how to do so. As my Buddhist brethren would say, "Find your path, then help others find theirs."

Scores of organizations need qualified people. And it doesn't take much beyond a commitment to learning to get qualified. There are social media gurus whose fame rivals your favorite reality show star only because he or she stayed committed to the cause. And now, unlike a decade ago, people prefer digital communications, buying, and interacting above all else. And might I remind you, we are only in the early stages of our equivalent of the industrial era; we just built the railroad (broadband highway), the first skyscrapers are just emerging above the rest (Amazon, Google, Faceboook), and the future is so bright - even thinking about staring at it will burn the retina.

To all who are here: if you're not jumping out of bed, then move on. Do something; and that does not mean switching employers, yet doing the same job.

Stop making the donuts and start eating them!

And to put words to action, I'd be happy to be make an introduction to those looking for a new career. Let's connect on LinkedIn and let me show you how easy and exciting a career can be!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Kahlow

After selling the Online Marking Summit (OMS) event company in 2011, Aaron is now leading the charge of the newest venture, the Online Marketing Institute - an e-learning platform and training destination for digital marketing education.

Kahlow is one of the most recognized thought-leaders in the digital marketing and social media space. Having founded, funded, and built three prolific and highly profitable digital marketing companies, Kahlow has also delivered hundreds of marquee keynote speeches around the globe. He is a recognized author, columnist (ClickZ, NYT) and authority on social media marketing, sales and marketing integration, demand generation, business-to-business marketing, search marketing, usability, analytics, and digital marketing strategy.

Today, Aaron can be found in his new home city of San Francisco, working on the global expansion of "Teaching the World Digital" in his e-learning technology venture, the Online Marketing Institute. Facebook and LinkedIn are his preferred places to connect.

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