The "good enough" career


How many times have you thought to yourself, "I'm X years old! Aren't I supposed to have achieved Y by now?"

We often use the metaphor of a ladder or its more modern cousin, the lattice, to describe an ideal career trajectory. The implication is that one must always be moving forward in some way--whether up or across, progress is the name of the game. But in the chaotic, messy, upside-down world that is 21st-century work, it's completely unrealistic to expect that lives and careers could ever unfold so neatly.

Yet we do. It is heartbreaking how much we demand this of ourselves, how much shame and sadness we suffer when we fail to meet these impossible standards. Is our worth really so brittle that a single career setback could shatter it so?

A somewhat radical proposition

What would it look like to believe in the "good enough" career? What would it look like to stop striving so hard to keep up with others who seem richer, smarter, more successful than we are? What would it look like to step off the sisyphean treadmill of self-improvement and accept our careers as they are?

The first time I even dared to contemplate this idea, it felt like heresy. Did believing my career was "good enough" mean settling for a lesser version of myself? Did it mean giving up on personal growth? Did it mean — horror of horrors! — that I was mediocre?

No. No and no and no and a thousand times no. Accepting your career--which is really about accepting yourself--doesn’t mean you're giving up on future success. Quite the contrary. It means defining career success according to your own terms. Not someone else's.

The "good enough" career 

So what is a "good enough" career? A "good enough" career is one in which you don't have to work so hard to meet someone else's definition of success.

In which you don't feel like you have to kill yourself with 80-hour weeks to meet arbitrary quarterly goals set by someone who has no understanding of what it takes to do the work.

In which you have room to explore your talents and passions, both inside and outside of work, without feeling pressure to turn them into a full-time living.

In which you can go home to your friends and family at night if you want, without feeling guilty about the hours you don't spend making your boss look good.

In which you can work towards a promotion or a new role because it's what you want, not because someone else thinks it's a logical next step.

In which your career--and by extension, you--are "good enough," right now, just as you are.