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We are all self-employed.

In effect, you are renting your skills out to your current employer.

This is an especially tough idea for those of us in the LIS profession to come to grips with, because we’re trained to think of ourselves as being part of a helping community. And that’s true, we are. But it’s also true that every aspect of the profession – both traditional and nontraditional – has been affected by financial realities that lead to budget constraints if not cuts and layoffs. What does that mean for your career?

It’s Not Personal, But It Is Reality

Understanding your need to take responsibility for your own career outcomes – and to act on that understanding – is one of the most important career competencies you can develop. That’s not because employers don’t care about your well-being, but rather because that can’t be their highest priority. So it has to be yours.

In order to pivot emotionally into this approach to your career, it’s important to master some key concepts that will help you focus on opportunities rather than wasting energy on emotional negatives. For example:

It’s not (necessarily) personal. Your employer’s responsibility is to most effectively allocate the organization’s resources to support its key mission or strategy. Both missions and strategies may change over time, and your skills may no longer align with the new direction. This is how most layoffs happen.

But even if it is personal, if your boss has it in for you and has been actively undermining you prior to a termination? The reality is that there are some truly awful people in the world, and most of us end up working for at least a couple of them throughout our careers (hand raised here). It’s crummy, but to the best of your ability, let go of your anger and focus forward – specifically, on what you’d like your next steps to be.

No one can get you unstuck but you. Who among us (hand raised again) hasn’t daydreamed about our perfect job, preferably one that lands in our laps and pays a lovely salary? Yep, not likely. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t work your way into that perfect (or close to it) job. If you’re feeling stuck in a less-than-fulfilling job, you’re the one who can change that – because you’re the one in charge of your career. What research do you need to do, what people talk to, what questions ask, to figure out what you’d rather be doing and how to make that happen?

Set your goal, figure out how you’re going to get there, and then create your action plan. What steps will you take and when? Then what? And after that? This is both the exhilarating and scary part of being in charge of your own career – all of the decisions are yours to make.

Taking control means focusing on short and long-term opportunities. You build professional equity, i.e., your career opportunities, on three elements: your knowledge or expertise, your network or the people with whom you’ve built relationships, and your professional reputation or brand (translation: who knows what about you, and how many people know it). Once you realize that you’re self-employed, and the trajectory of your career is solely in your own hands, you start making decisions based not only on short-term considerations (for example, a higher salary) but also on long-term career benefits.

For example, what might you learn in a given job that could at some point lead to opportunities in your area of passion? What colleagues or mentors might you be able to build career-long relationships with by volunteering for a professional task force? What doors might open if you invested in further professional development in an area of emerging interest?

When you take charge of your career outcomes and frame them within a decades-long context, investing in your career starts to pay off with both short- and long-term benefits.

Embracing a self-employed mindset

If you’re not used to thinking this way about your LIS career, it can feel a bit unreal at first. And the longer you’ve been a professional (that is, you started working when employment was considered a fairly stable state), the more disorienting it can seem.

The good news is that there are now a number of excellent books devoted to this topic, and they do a solid job of considering what the self-employed mindset means to individuals more comfortable with employment than entrepreneurship.

Some of the best:

Control-Alt-Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends on It / Mitch Joel, Business Plus, 2013.

The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life / Kimberly Palmer, AMACOM, 2014.

The Leap: Launching Your Full-time Career in Our Part-time Economy / Robert Dickie, Moody Publishers, 2015.

Own Your Own Future: How to Think Like an Entrepreneur and Thrive in an Unpredictable Economy / Paul B. Brown, Amacom, 2014.

The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career / Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, Crown Business, 2012.

I use the last one, The Start-Up of You, in the Alternative LIS Careers course that I teach for the University of Denver MLIS program, and can’t recommend it highly enough as an excellent starting point for you to start flexing your career take-charge muscles.