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Work Experience Reduces Career Vision

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Among the various factors which reduce our freedom to choose the course we would like our career lives to take, the final one is the actual work experience we have had over the years. Experience is a problem in three ways: 1.) It determines the way others view us. 2.) It limits the way we view ourselves. And 3 .) It causes conditioned reflexes or "molding processes" in each of us by means of prolonged repetitive activities in a given field and/or type of work.

Let's consider each of these problems.

1. The Way Others See Us.

Perhaps 99 percent of careers commence with a series of accidental circumstances.

For example, if a person is born into a family in which there is a family business, then the children may be expected to carry on the family tradition. This is a natural hope of the parents, and can be easily understood by the children to be their destiny. Such a person is generally perceived by others as going into the family business and is not expected to aspire to anything else.

Oftentimes a person will feel compelled to stay with the major studies acquired in college. Our college degree and the studies which were part of it become our "ego foundation" - the way we view ourselves and the way others perceive us.

In many cases, a career pattern is set by some accident immediately after school. In need of a first job, the new graduate with a degree in political science may be referred by a friend to the heavy equipment company on the other side of town; after a few years in heavy equipment, such an individual is perceived as an industrialist, in spite of the political science major. On the other hand, a young graduate with a degree in business may be referred to a necessary first job in City Hall - and thus begins a long political career.

Typically, none of the people in these examples will be given credit for abilities beyond the field each is identified with. The general message we receive from organizations is that we must have a certain number of years of experience in a field and be a certain age if we are to be considered for a given position. Another message is that we cannot reach a top manager's position unless we started 30 years ago as he or she did in the mail room of the company (or some other beginning level of responsibility).

The only solution is to take a good look at the talents which are within us which make countless alternatives possible, and be prepared to be more than competitive in the job market.

2. The Way We See Ourselves.

Following the dictates of our society, we see ourselves as historical "tools," who have performed a number of functions for our employers. Whenever we look for another job, we automatically consider the number of companies we have worked for and enumerate and evaluate the different jobs we have held within each one.

The resume each of us is expected to write, analogous to a photograph, simply freezes us in place; neither resume nor photo graph will show the animation and the breadth of activity that the individual is capable of. Our vision is therefore restricted to the past. If I have been a millworker, then I am hard pressed to think of myself in any other terms. If I have been working in purchasing for a number of companies, if I have been doctor, lawyer, banker, accountant, technician, etc., then I feel I can be nothing other than what experience has molded me into. Whatever we have done is something we can certainly do again, and a potential employer is likely to reject us if we can't show the required years of experience.

3. Our Conditioned Reflexes.

Each occupational grouping develops its own habit patterns formed from the "way things are done" in that industry. Military officers work in a unique setting - its closest approximation in civilian life being a police force. Bankers develop yet another set of work habit patterns. Retail store managers yet another. And so on. Each occupational grouping operates differently. Beyond that, each person - depending on personality, type of companies worked in, types of bosses, etc. - will develop unique patterns. It's as if each person adjusts to a subculture and has never examined the differences between various occupations to determine what "cultural" adjustments might permit a transfer from one to another.

An accountant of 20 years' experience perceived himself as reserved and introverted. In reality, his personality was outgoing, extroverted and socially bold. The type of work he did, his "conditioned reflexes" in effect, left him with an inaccurate image of himself. Whenever our work dominates our lives, this kind of warped self-understanding is entirely possible for any of us.

Historical activities pile up behind us. The list of organizations we have worked for becomes longer and longer. The actual responsibilities we have are repeated for years. The walls we put around the "box" we are in, both in our own minds and in the minds of others, become thicker and thicker. As the years go by, it becomes increasingly difficult to be flexible and base our career futures upon the real talents and the real hopes and aspirations that dwell within us.

Becoming something other than a computer card, or a numbered functionary, both in our own minds and in the minds of others, is among the most difficult, yet necessary and refreshing challenges which face any of us. This is the way to a truly competitive stance in the marketplace and to true freedom in our career choices.
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