Having consulted numerous clients with different professional backgrounds, career stages and levels of self-awareness, as well as goals varying from quick change of jobs to long term life purpose coaching, I summarized a few guidelines, which would be useful irrespective of where you are in your career journey. These thoughts will help you if you would like to own your career, to develop, and manage it.
Similar to health and relationships, if we don’t manage our career, it manages us. It’s easy to go with the flow, especially if you work for a big corporation where you have created a routine and secure environment. If you don’t find the time to explore your strengths and the activities you prefer to delegate, if you don’t observe your reactions in different situations with different people, if you don’t test your limits and don’t know what makes your heart sing – others will decide where you are needed in the corporate machine and will set your direction. This can lead to frustration, anger, bitterness and to feeling lost and incomplete.
The following empirically tested guidelines will help own your career and make informed decisions about its course:
Get to know yourself.
It’s astonishing how many successful and accomplished professionals don’t really know themselves – they don’t know what drives them, what they can do well, why recruiters select and managers trust them. They don’t know why they are good at the things they can do well, nor do they know their shadows – why they get angry sometimes, what types of behaviors press their buttons, what are their buttons.
For those of you not familiar with the work of Julia Roberts and more specifically her movie “The Runaway Bride”, I will provide some context before sharing an example. Julia Roberts’ heroine has a few engagements and not a single marriage. A New York journalist decides to shed some light on the situation, and as it turns out – the runaway bride’s problem is she doesn’t know herself well enough and is not familiar with what she likes and dislikes. As such, she literally melts into her future husband, adopting his identity. The journalist comes to this conclusion by the way the runaway bride likes her eggs – adapting her preferences to match the taste of her fiance. First, it’s a whites-only omelet, then – it’s sunny side up, then scrambled. Realizing how little does she know herself and in search of her identity – the runaway bride orders all different egg styles and selects the one she likes. And thus, she discovers her taste, not the taste of the man she happens to be in a relationship with.
If we continue with this allegory, in order to choose a career that suits you and not the company, the team, or the manager you are working for – the prerequisite is to know how you like your professional eggs. What’s important to you? A job in operations – boring or full of possibilities? Large teams – too much or dialogue-inspiring? Small company – can’t realize your potential or feeling energized that you can build everything from scratch?
Face your professional fear.
It’s no coincidence this advice comes after the self-awareness discussion – it’s important to know your strengths and limitations to be able to take risks without ruining your professional ambitions.
The time for me to confront my fears came right after my first job as a software project manager. I’ve reached my boundaries for dealing with the problems of clients and developers and needed a break from the IT world. I received offers from big IT companies, but decided to test my luck with something radically different – client relationship manager at a utility company. The teams I’ve managed as a PM were small and the new department comprised of 130+ employees with various – and in most cases oposite – profiles to the ones I used to communicate with.
Of course, I thought about a safe bet in the IT industry, but I finally decided to face my fears to be responsible for hundreds of people and to manage such a big organization, and I went for it.
I tested the elasticity of my strategic thinking, let go of people to achieve business goals, learned a few different and – sometimes opposite – communication styles, managed large budgets, and discovered how to navigate the complex relationship in a corporation. Besides the skills I faced and developed, I also met some aspects of myself I haven’t encountered before. I realized I prefer project to operational work. I realized managing large teams, as prestigious as it is, doesn’t bring me joy or satisfaction. I realized that the IT world, as demanding and exhausting it might be, is my place.
If I hadn’t made this career shift and taken the associated risks, I would probably still be wondering what could have been, or would be pursuing a vertical career, or would be working in corporate IT without appreciating my true strengths and place in it.
Always question limits and boundaries.
You are satisfied with your self-awareness, took the risks you needed to go deeper, and now feel your soul desires something you consider impossible, at least at this stage of your professional and life story.
I want to be a medical doctor, but I would need a diploma to do that. Indeed, traditional western medicine takes years of hard work that might seem impossible for someone in sales, with family and other responsibilities. On one hand – in 5 years you could have a degree or 5 years would have passed. On another – is it only conventional medicine you are interested in? Do you know what it would take to become a nutritionist? Or heal with energies? Or Chinese needles?
I am into Psychology, but it’s too late for me to become a psychotherapist. Similar to the medical doctor dream, the dream of healing souls can be fulfilled in alternative ways. Have you considered energy psychology? The different types of coaching? Human design? Online Psychology programs?
I would like to be a teacher, but I am not good with kids. If sharing knowledge is your dream, you don’t have to make it come true in the classic way – passing knowledge onto kids at school. There are so many other possibilities, which don’t include teaching children or teenagers. Online trainings and seminars. Language centers. Suggestopedia.