One perspective on career stages

Once upon a time, I worked with an amazingly brilliant and well-established security professional who had a unique perspective on the stages of an individual’s career. Given where he was professionally, his view made sense.

I’m still not entirely sure his view of these stages as a progression is correct, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless.

What you do

The first supposed stage is all about your individual abilities. What is it you can do? What value can you directly provide to the company? How much return can someone get from the investment your salary represents?

This is a familiar place to be for most individual contributors. Your value is tied more or less directly to your contributions. It makes sense.

But more than that, this stage purportedly represents someone early in their career. I’m hedging a bit here because, for some people, this is exactly where they want to be.

And that’s perfectly ok.

What you know

The next stage is all about coaching and consulting. In this stage of your career, you’ve acquired a slate of experience from which you can speak.

This stage typically represents managers or consultants. People who are paid not based on their individual output, but on their ability to scale their knowledge to a broader team of contributors.

Again, some folks might never want to be in management. And others might never want to be anywhere else. That’s ok.

My former colleague’s view that these were progressive stages was, perhaps, misguided. But they’re definitely discrete types of work.

What you own

The terminal stage in his view was established investors. Not necessarily venture capital types, but angel investors and similar. People who, through years of successful careers, had amassed a nest egg.

Their value was no longer in direct contributions or in management. Instead it’s in your ability to directly impact what projects receive investment and why.

I’m still not convinced these different kinds of career contribution are contiguous stages of development, although it’s clear some folks follow a specific path from one to another. Each form of contribution is equally valid and vital for success.

What’s your perspective on career progression?