Boundaryless careers

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘boundaryless’ career?

Perhaps you imagine a special kind of career that defies definition. A career that spans all functions and facets of a business.

Maybe you thought of a career that could take off in any direction, as if the future were going to be without bounds.

Or maybe your mind takes a cynical turn and you thought of theq all-access (boundaryless) careers we have – email, mobile phone, laptop access 24-7.

Turns out that researchers were thinking of something different.

Social scientists give us this definition:

moving away from one single, externally determined view which defined what a good career is”

From Lips-Wiersma, M, McMorland, J. (2006) “Finding meaning and purpose in boundaryless careers: A framework for study and practice.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 46(2), 147-167.

In other words, a boundaryless career is one that is not concerned with climbing a specific career ladder, but is more concerned with ‘the individual’s experience of the career unfolding.’ In otherwords, a boundaryless career is a non-linear career path.

Boundaryless careers ask individuals to take responsibility for their career paths instead of the corporations that employ them. Traditional careers assume the corporation will move individuals up the ladder and reward employees with increased pay as they work hard and accomplish goals. Boundaryless careers are more concerned with meaning and purpose than with simply climbing a ladder.

My guess is that the idea of a lifetime career not being about climbing a ladder and instead about realizing a larger purpose initially strikes people differently based on their generation. My father (a baby boomer) joined a company fully expecting to work there until he retired. When that didn’t work out, he moved to another company expecting much the same thing. And then when again that did not work out, he went to work for himself, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

I (proudly generation X) personally did not expect to work at the same place for more than a few years before going someplace new. I’m not sure why, but I think my generation was told that we would never be happy in one place for long. I proved them wrong, along with many others of my generation, staying at the same company for 17 years and not leaving by my own choosing. Now, however, given the opportunity to explore possibilities in life and work, I find myself deeply drawn to the boundaryless career idea. I now want my work to be grounded in purpose and meaning.

As for the generations behind me, they were supposed to be the generation that put purpose and fulfillment ahead of any other career ambitions. Yet, in my time in corporate America, I saw a pattern much like mine. I saw the desire not to get stuck, and yet person after person sticking around long after any happiness they had in their position had been sucked out of them.

So although the idea might strike the generations differently initially – the Baby Boomers see a boundaryless career as their rewards after a long time spent slogging away in the corporate jungle, the Generation Xers as an idea that comes after disappointment and heartache, and the Millenials as the way it should have been anyway – it seems to me that we all come around to the idea that work would be much more satisfying and worthwhile if it were more focused on our purpose and brought meaning to our lives.

Now the question is: how do we find and/or build these boundaryless careers? How do we free ourselves of the notion of being ‘stuck’? How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives without having to relegate it to time spent outside of work?

These are great questions, and unfortunately there aren’t any easy answers. To reach these goals in life, it takes a great deal of self-awareness and introspection. I’ll give you some questions to start with below. At the same time, I’ll let you in on a secret – The short-cut is to get yourself a coach who will help guide you through this. (I can help with this!)

Here are some questions to ask yourself that may help you build your own boundaryless career:

  1. What brings you meaning? Write down your answers. Ask yourself this question over and over, answering from different perspectives (work, home, school, community, etc.) until you run out of ideas.
  2. What are your values? Write them down, then go back and circle the 3 most important. Why are these important to you? What do they look like in real life?
  3. If you were guaranteed not to fail, what would you do right now? What would happen if you failed?
  4. What is it that is keeping you from following your dreams? What would it take to allow you this freedom?

If you are moved by the idea of the boundaryless career, and want some help finding your own, I would love to help! Give me a call, leave a comment, or send me an email.

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