Sorry, I’m Not a Believer on ‘You Can Be Anything You Want’, at Least When Talking About Career Journey

I almost finish my master degree. It feels so quick as now I need to rethink the next journey for my professional career. Although gratefully I received several job offers through my LinkedIn profile, I haven’t decided anything and will give time to myself to think carefully on several aspects.

The phrase ‘you can be anything you want’ is so attractive. You might hear this in many occasions, esp as an advice for your future in motivational sessions. In a career journey, it implies that career is ‘boundaryless’. By boundaryless, it means that career could become ‘a sequences of job opportunities that move beyond the boundaries of single employment settings’ (Arthur, 1994) or easily ‘move across the boundaries of separate employers’ (Guest, 2015). To me, this is not entirely true as career does have boundaries. In this blogpost, let me try to discuss several of them. Not to be such a pessimistic, but more on realistic context which might help us to determine our career wisely.

It’s worth to note what it means by boundaries, I would bring Ashforth’s, et al (2000) perspective on this; as he explained boundaries as limits around ‘physical, temporal, emotional, cognitive, and/or relational’. Those boundaries also have ‘textures’ as mentioned by Guest (2015). Some boundaries could be physical (e.g. location), social (e.g. discrimination), and even psychological (e.g. working preferences) which make it less visible. Those boundaries involve circumstances within person or surrounding environment (e.g. education background, difficulty in finding mentors, or lack of social capital); which somehow limits career mobility and development.

The concept of ‘you can do anything you want’ / boundaryless career emphasizes the freedom of individuals to decide their own career. However, regulation from government, education background, and social class take place in shaping an individual career. The believe that boundaryless career is driven by individuals and indeed sounds so attractive; but this thinking only benefits people with good education and high skills, but not for minorities, women, low skills and disabled people, as argued by Currie, et al (2006).

In reality, to get a job, you will need to cross such boundaries which usually involve such gate-keepers. The function of gate-keepers is to make sure that the employees who will enter the new role are suitable and most likely be successful in all the needed processes. These gate-keepers usually in form of as recruiters, examiners on chartered bodies, or managers and leaders of an organization/institution. To pass the gate-keepers, you will need to fulfill all the requirements from skills, education, previous experiences (or sometimes whether you know somebody from that particular organization/institution!).

Instead of keeping in mind that ‘you can be anything you want’; I prefer to look re-evaluate ourselves by understanding what might be such boundaries for our career journey. Once we evaluate our career boundaries, we will be able to re-arrange our situation by re-learn, re-train, re-skill, or equipping ourselves with possible new knowledge and skills to be able to cross several boundaries to obtain a ‘better career journey’. For instances, I never learned about data analytics; those are boundaries for me to pursue a career journey in tech-driven company as a social data analyst (e.g. people analytics). If only I strive to equip myself with the needed skill, I would then get a chance to cross that boundary.

Illustration: re-learn, re-train, re-skill yourself

Nevertheless, in some cases, we just need to embrace boundaries that we have. For example, I am aware that my mathematical intelligence is not as strong as my linguistic/verbal intelligence; thus I would not bother to pursue career that involves strong mathematical skills and focus to develop careers that would appreciate my other skills.

Telling ‘you can be anything you want’ for kids who’re still grow up would be fine, telling that phrase to young-adult who have more boundaries could be problematic. On some contexts, career boundaries could be less but also could be more complicated once an individual grew up. If it seems that you only have to embrace some of your boundaries, be explorative on what you have and design your best career aspirations from those. Don’t forget that you’re able to increase your value to cross more boundaries by re-learn, re-train, and re-skill yourself. You cannot be anything you want, but you might be able to be the best version of yourself.

@yosea_kurnianto

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Oscar says:

    Its said to children because the aim is to open their minds to the endless opportunities that exist (so that they find their inspiration or passion)…….and even for adults it is true because if one’s inspiration/motivation is greater than the hurdles faced, than the individual is successful…plus as Alvin Toffler said “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn and unlearn and relearn.”

    Keeping this in mind most of the skills are easily accessible; its just a question of organising or planning that matters.

    Lastly, people change fields and careers all around us…this goes to show that it is not a question of boundaries or gates but a question of passion and vigor that separates between success and failure.

    “Carpe Diem Quam Minimum Credula Postero” my friend.

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