Owning Versus Renting Your Career

I bought my first car when I was 16 years old. It was the definition of a terrible decision . . . more on that in a moment—


When I was 16 years old, I crashed the family car driving home on a snowy afternoon from a friend’s house. I slid off the road into another car and when I called my parents to tell them I was okay but the car wasn’t, my mom’s response was, “we’re coming to get you.” I tried to tell them not to because the snow was getting worse and the tow truck was on its way. Fast-forward another 15 minutes and my parents’ car had slid off the road into a median and knocked out the transmission in the other family car. So, the Burke-Aguero family went from 2 cars to 0 cars within 15 minutes that day.

At the time, I was working two jobs, one as a lifeguard and the other at a retail store. I was also involved with sports and school, so needless to say, I had to figure out a way to get around. So, I scrounged up all the money I had and bought a 1990 Ford Tempo—a 2-door, red rust bucket—for $900. The CarFax report had said it had 141,500 miles, but I thought that must have been an error since the odometer only read 96,000 miles at the time of purchase. The only problem I didn’t know about was the odometer only went to five digits . . . so I actually bought a car with 196,000 miles on it! It would only start one out of every three times you turned the key and if you had the air conditioning and the radio on at the same time there was a high likelihood it would die while driving down the interstate. And if I took a turn that needed power steering . . .

Essentially, picture the biggest rust bucket you can and that was my car. But I loved it.

It was mine—I paid for it! I was so proud of it! I wanted to take care of it and I had all these plans to rebuild and repaint it and everything else to make it wonderful.

Over the years since, I’ve driven many cars (some leased, some on loan, some bought) and yet I still remember the pride of that first time buying the car myself.

Maybe you can relate with that feeling—that pride that comes from ownership?

Owning or Renting?

Earlier this week I was working with my client, Paul, who runs a large team of insurance agents in Connecticut. His team has been growing and as an organization they are getting better all the time. I love working with Paul because he is a man of action, service, and humility.

One of the things Paul is working on with his office is helping his agents see the vision of ownership in their career. This really stuck out to me because it is such a simple way to reframe how to view your career.

I’ll challenge you to ask yourself that same question right now: Do you own your career? Or are you renting it?

To further the analogy, think of home ownership. When you rent you have a landlord who comes in to solve the issues that arise like the toilet breaking or the air conditioning unit going out. You give yourself (money/rent) to someone else because they ultimately are the ones responsible and they will get the reward (your rent). While renting, you may not be thinking more than a few months down the line, looking for another place to rent in a different part of town if the opportunity arises.

In contrast, when you buy a home you make a decision that this house is an investment in your future, even if it’s only for a few years. You are either investing with the hope of staying there and building equity long-term, you are investing with the hope of turning it into an income producing property like a rental, or you are investing so that one day when you sell you can get the most return on investment. When you buy a home, you take into consideration the neighborhood, schools, proximity to important things, and even if it doesn’t check all the boxes you learn to make it work. When you buy a home, you are the first line of defense when things happen and if you do end up hiring a plumber or contractor to come in, it’s on your dime.

So I’ll ask again: Are you owning or renting your career?

Owning Your Career

The key distinction for many when posed this question is the assumption that when you make the decision to “own” your career then you must have found the perfect career and you’ve planted your flag for the long term.

Wrong.

Simply put, making the decision to own your career is:

  • Deciding that you are going to make the most of the opportunity you have in front of you for as long as you can until the next opportunity arises.
  • Committing to work to become better at your craft by learning, developing, training (building equity), and taking ownership for the decisions you make.
  • Being a student of the game and intentionally taking time to read books, listen to podcasts, to hire a coach (cue the music!).
  • Stepping up and knowing only you are ultimately responsible for your effort and your attitude towards your success. External circumstances may happen but you are going to give it your best and actively work to further your career by learning.
  • Realizing that if one day this door does close then the next door will be bigger, better, and you will be better prepared for the new opportunity because of your time spent developing yourself today.

A simple challenge to ask yourself today: When was the last time I picked up a book, listened to a podcast, or actively tried to learn something to further my craft? Not in a passive manner but in an active decision? When was the last time you had someone call you out on your BS excuses as to why you haven’t done this or that?

Growth and Accountability

Hopefully this clicks for you like it did for me. Honestly one of the things that I love the most about my job as a sales and leadership coach is that sometimes I learn as much from my clients as they hopefully do from me. When Paul told me he posed this question to his team, I had a lightbulb go off in my own head.

If I look back on the last few years of my career journey, at my current career and at my previous jobs, I was definitely guilty of renting at my last employer. I relied on others to solve my problems for me, I treated the role as if there was a ceiling to my growth and that I was stuck in a loop. When I transitioned to what I do now, at first there were a few months of ownership, leaning into the challenges and taking responsibility for how I chose to spend my day. But as the time went on, those same excuses and bad habits crept back in.

Which is why I’m so grateful for this week. This week I am in Nashville, Tennessee with 150 of the world’s smartest, brightest, and most servant-driven salespeople and leaders at our week-long global summit. With coaches from all over the world (USA, Brazil, Canada, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Israel), we are taking a few days to intentionally develop our craft and work to get better together.

The last few weeks I’ve been leaning into the habits I know I need to form in order for me to succeed. And this week I’m learning even more from the best of the best. This week I am owning my career and investing the time in being a student of the game to work towards my goals.

Have you made the decision to own your career? What will you do this week towards that?

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