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This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Managing Oneself" by Peter F. Drucker. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does it mean to manage yourself? Why is it important to take responsibility for developing your own career?

According to Peter Drucker, managing yourself is taking responsibility for yourself and your career development so that you can grow and learn throughout your working life. In other words, it means taking the initiative to develop your skills so that you maximize your chances of having a successful career. 

Keep reading to learn what career self-management is and why it’s a practice that Drucker believes you should engage in.

What Does It Mean to Manage Yourself? 

In this book Managing Oneself, Drucker explains the necessity of career self-management to take responsibility for yourself and direct your career. When managing yourself, Drucker notes that it’s helpful to think of yourself as your own boss, making decisions about your future. These decisions could be pursuing additional training courses to bolster your CV or improving your social skills to engage more positively with your colleagues. 

Other Views of Self-Management 

Rather than giving a precise definition of what self-management is, Drucker slowly reveals his concepts of self-management throughout his book. Other authors have offered more of a concise definition of self-management, sometimes drawing on Drucker’s ideas. 

For instance, in The First 90 Days, a guide to succeeding in your new job, author Michael D. Watkins outlines two pillars of self-management. The first is to create habits that will ensure your success, such as blocking off time to pursue your medium-term and long-term goals. The second is to build yourself a support system, such as a network of people whose advice you know you can trust. 

Other authors also add an emotional component to self-management. In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradbury defines self-management as the ability to use self-awareness to manage your emotions. This means acting on rational thoughts to avoid being controlled by emotion and using positive self-talk. Bradbury also ties self-management to support systems, encouraging you to publicize your goals so that others can hold you accountable and support you. 

Why Is It Necessary to Manage Yourself?

Drucker believes career self-management is necessary because our working lives have changed drastically. We are now in the era of the “knowledge worker,” which has altered the kind of work we do. 

Knowledge working means that now we can make choices about our working lives, and Drucker asserts that making good choices is necessary to having a successful career. As a knowledge worker, you can, for instance, choose where you work, and for how long you work there, unlike in the past, when workers had one career path for life. As you are likely to be the only constant factor throughout your career, you must take responsibility for your career path by learning to manage yourself. 

What Is a Knowledge Worker?

Drucker briefly discusses the concept of being a knowledge worker and the choices this involves, but he doesn’t give a definition of the term. He actually coined the term “knowledge worker” in his book The Effective Executive, in which he defined it as someone whose chief professional asset is their knowledge. This contrasts with a role in which your chief asset may be your physical strength or your deftness when operating machinery. 

Examples of knowledge workers include programmers, lawyers, academics, and architects. As developed economies move away from production-related industries and towards service industries like technology, marketing, and research, knowledge worker roles are increasingly common.

Exercise: Find Your Self-Management Role Model

In this exercise, you’ll identify a self-managed person and explore how to emulate them to get started on your path to self-management. 

Describe someone who you think embodies Drucker’s notions of self-management. This could be someone from your personal or professional life or a famous person. 

List three to five qualities that this person has that make them good at self-management, with an example of a time when they demonstrated each of those qualities. 

Identify the quality from your above list that would most help you to manage yourself. How could you start to adopt this quality in your life?

Career Self-Management: Own Your Success

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Here's what you'll find in our full Managing Oneself summary:

  • Why the secret to building a successful career is managing yourself
  • How to build a rewarding career where you can thrive
  • How to have a second career that’s even better than your first

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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