Today’s business environment is fraught with uncertainties and unpredictability. Downsizing, layoffs, and corporate restructuring have reshaped the career landscape. And because of this we are all faced with new challenges and decisions. Here are some steps to follow:
This changing world has presented an opportunity for reassessment of our purpose and life’s meaning. An opportunity for transformation and rebuilding. It forces us to ask important questions: What are my priorities? What do I consider important? What gives me personal fulfillment? What does success mean to me and how do I get there?
Whether you are starting a new career, transitioning out of your existing one, or looking for a new position, the most important element is defining YOU. It all begins with understanding yourself. As Abraham Maslow said, “If you want to find out what you ought to be, then find out who you are.”
Most people make career decisions by looking at the world around them and then try to reshape themselves to fit into it. But this is the opposite of what needs to be done. Defining the right career path starts from the inside out. It’s a journey of evolving self-awareness. By self-awareness, I mean a process that begins with inner exploration to help you understand the vital elements that will keep you connected to your work in a meaningful way. You need to find the environments that let you shine, the interests that excite you, the roles you like to play and the skills you enjoy using. Work is satisfying when it fits your self-definition but first you need to know what your self-definition is.
When thinking about a career, most people mistakenly start by focusing on a subject matter, industry or job title. For example, we hear people say, I think I’ll become a lawyer, marketing manager, or financial analyst, or, I’ll go into the field of publishing, marketing or human resources. But there are more important questions to ask yourself first. Do you like working with people or paper, do you want something that’s different every day or are you more comfortable with routine? Do you need freedom and flexibility or structure and security? Do you prefer to manage people or projects? Do you need to be part of an organization or do you require freedom from organizational constraints? Under what conditions do you work best? Answering these questions is often more revealing than searching for a job title or job description. Defining yourself by a job title limits your ability to gain clarity. Job titles don’t describe the environments, work style and roles played. Sorting through these career issues can feel overwhelming and complicated, but there is a process that will carry you to your goals. This process begins with self-awareness in the following 4 areas:
Skills are what translate into roles and activities and break down into 6 basic categories: communication, creativity, research, organization, analytical and problem solving. All of the hundreds of skills that exist fall into one of these categories. For example, communication skills might include writing, persuading, presenting, teaching, training, listening, negotiating, etc. Researching might include evaluating, classifying, interviewing, etc. Whether you’re developing a marketing plan, analyzing an operational system, writing an ad campaign, clearly defining and articulating your skills becomes essential. Identifying and articulating your particular skills is what leads you to a career in which your strengths will be maximized and where you will feel naturally competent.
Think of the subjects that turn you on and the “stuff” you want to know about. Notice where your interests tend to cluster. Is it music, sports, politics, group dynamics, health, children? When you read the newspaper what section do you look at first? What kind of books do you read? What do you notice when you walk around? Architecture, people, restaurants? Do you like being in nature? Do you enjoy reading maps? Are you most comfortable around computers? Pay attention to what interests you and the subjects you’re drawn to. They will lead you to a career which keeps you interested and rewarded.
We are often forced to make choices as to how to live our lives and often our choices will be based on our values. Values are emotional needs and important sources of satisfaction; they create focus and shape behavior. What really drives you? Is it risk and challenge? autonomy and self-expression, status and power? making a contribution to society? the potential of high earnings? These are value questions and while we may have many different values, we need to prioritize which are most important. Values, more than anything else change through out life. What you valued 5 years ago may not be what you value today. Sorting through these value questions are important to career clarification.
Personality style is probably the most important element in this process and the most difficult to define and understand. What is meant by personality style is where are your sources of energy, how do you perform a task, how do you make decisions and how you are perceived by others. For example, when you approach a task, is the emphasis on the completion or the process? Do you enjoy make high-level management decisions or prefer concentration on the project? Do you make decisions logically and analytically or subjectively and emotionally? Do you prefer ideas and vision or execution and detail? Are you sociable and interactive or reserved and reflective? Answers to these questions will help you clarify and understand who you are and who you need to be in your workplace to keep you satisfied and effective.
Developing a successful career is like a mosaic: the right blend of your total person, a perfect merging of your whole self. Any part of the mosaic that’s missing minimizes your chances of success and fulfillment. We have all witnessed exceptional performance by ordinary people. This is because they have merged the best parts of themselves into what they do. They have learned to work from the inside out. There are many ways to do this. Although some people choose to go through this self-awareness process on their own, others choose to do it with guidance. There are a wide variety of tools that will help you. There are books, websites, courses, workshops and career counselors to help guide you though this process. There are personality assessments like the Strong Interest Inventory and Meyers Briggs designed specifically to help you in this career search, this life search. The important part is that you take the time to do it. That you discover the career path that grows out of who you are; to find the career that reflects the true you, so it can give you energy, satisfaction and rewards. It is no exaggeration to say: the rest of you life depends upon it.
While we can’t control the state of the economy or the marketplace, we can control the choices we make. Industries change; technologies advance and companies come and go. We have gone from a job-structured work place to a self-structured workplace. Therefore, it has never been more important to understand ourselves – and to apply that understanding to gain clarity and confidence. It is what will allow you to survive and prosper, even in these difficult times. The best way to recession-proof your career is to create a career, which grows out of you – your skills, your values, your interests and your personality style. Believe and trust in this process because it works. I have watched unhappy, frustrated people transform themselves into effective, rewarded, and energized professionals who get immense satisfaction out of their careers. Not only can you survive and thrive – but your new self-awareness will become the most continually powerful tool you possess. A tool that will support you and nourish you for the rest of you life.