From the time we were about seven years old (the age of reason) most of us are asked –what do you want to do when you grow up. Fireman, policeman, doctor, lawyer, basketball player, etc. are some of the answers I presented based on limited life experiences. How about you? What were your answers? What does it say about your dreams for meaningful work?
Dreams die-hard and life experiences open up new options and interests. Yet the planning is haphazard and many times is based on other people’s dream for you. Parents want the best for their children and sometimes try to live their lives through their offspring’s. Maybe you have lived your life trying to fulfill the expectations of others. And the questions still remain–WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE? WHAT WOULD “MEANINGFUL WORK” LOOK LIKE?
Finding The Good Fit
Most people need to work in an environment that reflects and aligns their values and beliefs with the results of their work. In theoretical terms, these individuals express what Dr.John Holland, career guru and father of the Self-Directed Search, a widely used career interest assessment tool, helps you determine the best person-environment fit for you. If the things that people value are not appreciated and rewarded at work they often become bored, frustrated and see themselves as a miss-fit. For example, one of my clients was very bright and accomplished. He held an Ph.D. from Yale and worked for a top consulting firm doing complex analysis in very detail-oriented, structured projects and was very unhappy. Certainly he had the intellect and skill to do the work, but his temperament required that he be in highly visible, creative, people-oriented activities. His employer did not particularly value or reward the talents he wanted to express, nor did the company’s culture match his temperament. Eventually, he switched careers and took a fund-raising position and began teaching Executives the How to’s of fund raising at an Executive Development Institute at a major University. In that position he could draw upon his strong interpersonal and communication skills as well as his analytical, financial and organizational talents. The move resolved his career frustration and pinches. He is now anchored in a career that matches his values and talent in a culture that rewards who he is, wants to be and what he likes doing.
Self-Coaching Challenge: Action Steps for Managing You Career and Your Future at work
1. Before you consider changing careers, is to identify your interest and define what meaningful work means. You must do both formal and informal self-assessment and be open to feedback. Yet the many work you need to do is to listen to yourself and and the questions of meaning and identity. Many people find it easier if they get a professional career counselor to help them sort through the problems and underlining values that are causing the existential pinches. Meanwhile, during tough economic times it is important for to be persistent about first looking for solutions within your current job. Do all you can to make the job fit your needs and values better. This may mean exploring whether you can delegate responsibilities you don’t enjoy or add responsibilities that you do enjoy. Ask a trusted mentor or buddy for advice. Consider company resources such as training programs or developmental opportunities that could broaden your opportunities. Don’t give up on a career without first examining how you can better mold it to your liking.
2. Ask yourself how much of your frustration is wanting to move away from something as opposed to wanting to move toward something else. You may not know what you want in a new career. You may be burned out or in need of a significant change of scenery. If so, it’s common to expend a lot of energy disliking what you currently do for a living. Try instead to channel that energy into clarifying what your career passion is. Doing so makes it much more likely that you’ll find a new, satisfying career. Don’t make the mistake many unhappy people do of quitting their jobs and going back to school without first doing the difficult work of deciding which career will work for you in the long run. Know where you want to land and then make the necessary educational or training plans.
3. Ask yourself, “If I was doing this job with another company would I be happier?” You may like your job but dislike the industry you’re in. Think about what’s at the bottom of your discontent. You may get satisfaction from a job similar to the one you have now but with a different company or in a different industry. Remember what Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric once said “The idea of quitting was the absolute rottenness of it all. Then I was given a project where I was the only employee. I was able to call myself king, emperor, any titled I wanted. And I hired one technician. And from that we built a multi-billion-dollar plastic business.”
Remember that career development and decisions are difficult self-understanding projects that require courage and truth-telling. So stop bitching with your buddies about how jobs are being eliminated and start taking action on personal reinvention before you canned.