We spend most of the better part of our lives working, giving our passion and energy to a cause or team or employer who is extraordinarily lucky to have us. For those of us who get to retirement, we’ve typically logged 90,000 hours of service. 90,000 hours! With all of the personality assessments, digital applications, and career counselors, you’d think that with a decision as important as “what do I want to do when I grow up,” would be easier to make. Unfortunately, there’s probably no better tool than self-reflection and a lot of difficult decisions. For even the luckiest, there’s a lot of trial-and-error, starting-and-stopping, and career re-engineering. Whether a person is just about to embark on a career or thinking about a possible ending to one, Dr. Mac Powell shares several ways to adjust toward the career path best suited for your skills and talents.
Make a List
I’m a huge fan of making lists when it comes to things that need to be revisited as part of on-going decision-making. One list that I have all of my clients make is about happiness, a list of the things in their lives that makes them happy or grateful (physical health, spouse, children, dogs, cats, cars, church … for the happiest people, the lists can be quite long). For me, if an employee’s job and coworkers aren’t near the top, that’s a sign that there is some major reprioritizing or reframing in store. I find that people’s overall happiness, work satisfaction, and marital satisfaction are closely interrelated. Very closely. Getting this list together and keeping track of what’s working is critical to an employee’s professional and personal life.
In the case of career decisions, I’ve seen extremely extroverted people work in jobs where they stare at a screen all day, and I’ve seen introverts shake hands and kiss babies from noon until night. However, for most of us, we need to align our work, our workplace, our work hours, and our coworker relationships with our own personality style. We also require our work to align with our competencies, education, and experience.
Again, Another List
When someone is thinking about whether they are in the right role or career, it is best to make an inventory (list) of their assets. What are their competencies (what a person does well), education and credentials, and experience (not just job roles, but the duties and problems solved in personal and professional life)? Best to ask a friend or coworker to help populate the list and be open to feedback; I also like clients to make a list of the things that they’re not good at, or don’t have an interest in doing to help narrow the focus of decision-making.
In some cases, the list of what a person does well and what they don’t yet do as well can lead to a conversation with a boss or HR manager that can help realign work or assignment within an organization. In other situations, it means that you begin thinking about how existing competencies, education, and experience align with different opportunities.
Two decades ago, this might have meant writing a resume or sending our cover letters. A decade ago, the fad was to have “informational interviews” with peers or influencers to get their opinion on what opportunities seem most suited. Today, it is possible to load a resume and interests on large job boards and platforms, and an algorithm will put it out in front of the world. For me, I think this is a fantastic opportunity to get in front of a lot of employers, but my advice is that no matter what technique used in sharing oneself with the world it is important to engage in some self-reflection simultaneously.
Take Stock, Take Action
Upon reflecting on what brings a person happiness and their inventory of competencies, education, and experience, I recommend putting together a performance plan for the future. The economy, jobs, and the skills we use are evolving so quickly; it’s critical always to be looking forward. Some futurists estimate that the pace of change is so rapid that most skill-based or technical education will be obsolete within five years after completion. Therefore, we all need to be continually refining what we know, how we know it, and how we deploy it. It doesn’t have to be a formal education or degree, but I recommend regularly stretching abilities and knowledge in some proctored setting. In other words, get help keeping oneself accountable for following through on whatever performance goals that one sets for themself. Some of the most successful clients seeking new career opportunities accompanied it with tackling their diet, learning a new language, taking a certificate program in computer programming, joining a mentorship program and receiving feedback about their career choices, volunteering in a non-profit organization, and hiring a tutor to help their public speaking.
For me, constant reflection is worthless without taking action. In career, continually building skills, reflecting on their value and your happiness in work, and aligning those values with daily work is essential. Keep a list of the things that bring joy and work to align that joy with the work that will occupy some of the most precious time in a person’s life. And, keep in mind that the pace of change will require not only moments of self-satisfaction and happiness, but also a constant eye to how one must change behaviors and advance their skills to keep that well-earned equilibrium.