People in business often refer to working on the business versus working in the business. When I first heard this term, I found it hard to fully comprehend. But as a self-employed worker, it has proved to be an invaluable and important distinction to get my head around.
In effect, self-employment involves doing two jobs:
- You do the work that you specialise in (e.g. plumbing, career guidance, accounting, website design, etc)
- You manage the business side of things (keeping track of your expenditure and income, marketing your services, invoicing people, setting up systems and processes to make the business work, doing your tax return, etc.)
A similar distinction can be made between working in your career and working on your career.
- Working in your career – well, again, this is about doing the work you specialise in. At different points in my career, I’ve worked as a secretary, a paper conservator, an events organiser, a training manager, and as a career consultant. I’ve drawn on professional knowledge, formal education, skills, strengths and experience to do the work I’ve done.
- Working on your career is often what you do when you realise you want or need to make changes. You start thinking about alternative jobs and how best to ‘sell’ yourself on your CV and in interview. Perhaps you realise your current work isn’t right for you and your work needs a new direction. Maybe something happens that forces you to make changes e.g. you get a new manager who drives you crazy, or you lose your job, or have health problems, or some other life challenge comes long. Or maybe something good happens – an unexpected windfall comes your way and you can take time out to reconsider your options; or you start a family; or you get made redundant late in your career, get a good package and can semi-retire.
Right now, many businesses, organisations and individuals around the world are going to be working on their business/career because of the profound impact of Coronavirus on the economy. They’ll be thinking about how to make ends meet, how to work in new ways so that the business/career can keep going, how to pool resources, etc.
At the same time, some fortunate businesses – tinned tomato, toilet roll and hand sanitiser factories in particular, as well as many individual workers – will suddenly be finding they are working in their business or career harder than ever before because of unprecedented demand for the goods and services they provide.
Hopefully, you’ll be one of the lucky ones. But if you’re not, and Coronavirus is forcing you to rethink, this period of uncertainty can be used constructively to review what you’ve been doing and whether it’s been right for you. And if it hasn’t been right for you, now may be the time to get clear on what you really want to offer moving forward. Yes, it may take time for the economy to right itself, and work opportunities may be hard to come by for a while, but getting clear on who you are, what you have to offer, and why, will put you in a stronger position for applying for jobs you’re suited to.
And more generally, it probably makes sense in a time of crisis if we all identify our strengths and focus on doing what we’re best at, and leave what we’re not so good at to others.
Two of the key principles underpinning strengths philosophy may be comforting at this time:
- The differences between us are an advantage. They’re resources that can be harnessed.
- We need one another. An individual shouldn’t be well-rounded but a team can and should be well-rounded.
If you need help getting clear on what you’re best at, please get in touch.