Remember this recipe -- take equal parts of fit, passion, creativity and tenacity, then blend together well and marinate for a few years or a few companies, whichever comes first. Once complete, you should have yourself what we all know as a career. But is it really this simple? Though the recipe is straightforward, just like in cooking the outcome depends largely on the individual chef doing the work.
We've all seen the self-help career guides, in the form of articles, seminars, and books. But the act of defining your career is very application-specific, meaning that it varies from individual to individual. A career that seems perfect for one person might suck for another. The perfect job is has everything to do with certain ingredients that make up the job; the company, the employees, and the product or technology. Simply generalizing a wish list of all-things positive isn't enough to define a career. It's the reason why you can take ten different people with the same skills, put them in the same job, and get ten different experiences.
Instead of trying to shoe-horn yourself into what people would say is the perfect job, consider looking for the specific attributes that would make YOU happy, then pile those attributes into a list. What you'll find is a list of nice, interesting, sometimes challenging items that you'd love waking up to doing, five days a week, for years and years. Now, those years may not all happen at the same company, but they should happen regardless of where you're working, no matter how many times you change jobs.
This is the same activity that successful businesses go through -- finding their niche, their forte, so that they can focus on what they do best. This in turn attracts customers who only want experts working for them. You should position yourself the same way -- to be the expert in whatever your field might be, so that you attract customers (read employers) who want to hire experts.
The recipe cited above is nothing more than a method of finding your expertise, and aligning it with what you enjoy doing. Fit helps you to match your skills with tasks that you love doing. Passion drives you to do more at your job and be interested in the work. Creativity helps you to find solutions which otherwise slow or hinder your work. And finally, tenacity is the fortitude and the wherewithal do forge ahead to become the best at what you do.
To a lot of folks, the work that I do as a full-time start up person may seem both risky and chaotic, and in fact sometimes it is. I may last as long as four years at a company, although my average time per employer is as little as 14 months. But what I do for companies defines both who I am and what I do for companies. It makes me a sort of "turnkey" worker -- fully defined and fully capable with a defined list of skills for a price. For the employer looking for someone like myself, it becomes a very simple "read the label and toss it in the shopping cart if you like it" affair.
In today's economy, this is the new paradigm of innovative companies.
Think about what you consider a job versus a career. Think about your "list" and see if your job satisfies that list. If it doesn't, then ask yourself if you're okay with it. Maybe you are, but if you aren't, be willing to redefine both yourself and your list.
... because in the end, a great chef is one who learns to adjust his recipe, to turn an okay dish into the perfect meal, time after time...