Like other people, you probably have fond recollections of starting out in life. From the moment you were free to strike out on your own, life held wonderful promise of new adventures to come. The sky was the limit, and the great advice people offered, as they wished you well, fueled your visions of success. Chances are, one of the most fundamental pieces of advice you received was to “know thyself.”
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Yet, it’s probably the one task you most quickly cast aside.
The fact is, like most of us, you probably got so caught up in your career adventure that you were eager to fit in to the profession, industry, and organization you decided to join. I know I did. Making that effort was, frankly, not entirely our own choice. After all, our careers most often get started in places that put a premium on conformity.
This is true, even now, despite what the corporate mission statement might say. And even if the organization suggests that fresh thinking is a good thing, there always seems to be someone from the “old guard” ready to provide a reality check. So you adapt, and in the process, put aside any idea of what you want in favor of what you need to do to survive.
If you’re lucky, and your career advances, you get to keep your job and you become even better at doing what’s expected. It can be difficult at times. Generally, however, you’re astute enough to figure out what others want from you – and agile enough to provide it. And as you’re more successful, you develop a picture of yourself that meets job requirements – even if it’s several beats short of who you truly are.
Still, there’s likely to be that pivotal moment when you face a career wake-up call! Whether it’s an increasing sense of unhappiness about your work or life, a clear signal about the impending death of your industry, or an actual layoff, it can be disorienting. Yet, following your instincts, you see that you need to take steps to find new work. So, you update your resume, polish up your LinkedIn profile, craft a “killer” elevator pitch to convey your value proposition, and work your network to squeeze out whatever job leads you can get. In fact, you may even consider creating a personal brand.
While this may seem like an obvious business-oriented approach, it is more often a knee-jerk reaction. And while there are some pragmatic elements to it, you’d do better to swallow the red-pill reality of self-knowledge. It is not necessarily an easy process, but the best one I can think of to put you on the path that is most meaningful and fulfilling for you. It involves both internal and external discovery processes.
Approach internal discovery by investing time in introspective work to uncover the story of your life journey, including the challenges you’ve overcome, and the things you’ve done that were the most deeply satisfying. If you need starter questions, consider these:
- What parts of your life and work are you really good at?
- What are you most passionate about in your work and life?
- What are some of your best accomplishments, and what did you do to reach them?
- Do you have a vision for what’s possible in the world? What is it?
- Have you ever felt you were meant to accomplish something significant? What is it?
- If you could design the perfect work and life, what would it look like?
- What are the most fundamental values and beliefs you apply to all you do?
- Who are the people you most want to be around? Who else?
- If you didn’t need a paycheck or could retire tomorrow, what would you do with your time?
- What would you do if you were truly brave? What risks are you willing to take to have a better life?
Working with a coach can help you achieve deeper insights and find the connections among them. As well, you may want to find a book that will guide your introspection. (A promising one I’ve just discovered is Kerry Pastine’s Know Thyself.)
For the external process, invest some time in getting feedback on how others see you, including your best attributes, skills, strengths, and roles. What you learn from others will help you see how you make a difference for them…and for others in the future. There are different strategies for doing this, but one of the best ones I’ve found is the 360 Reach assessment, which is an automated feedback survey that protects the anonymity of the people who provide your feedback. (Full disclosure: It’s a tool I sell and use.)
Frankly, this process offers some self-validation; so, you’ll likely discover you that you know quite a bit about yourself already. Yet, you’ll surely discover some surprises that will give you a more complete picture. You’ll have insights that will help you make better choices about your career, and you’ll have a better shot at getting real, so you can make a better life for yourself.
So, consider this your career wake-up call and get started today!!