I don’t know about you, but I kind of fell in to my original career path, and then took opportunities as they came along and felt right to me, and that worked out OK for the most part. It wasn’t until my most recent career decision that I took a more coordinated approach to deciding my next step because for the first time, I wanted to make a more informed choice, and I simply wasn’t sure what was next for me. There is a dizzying array of possible job options out there, and over the coming years, many jobs will disappear to technology and be replaced with new roles to address new challenges and opportunities, and like the cakes in the picture, lots of them can look tempting. With all this choice and uncertainty, it can be useful to have a foundation on which you can make decisions, so I thought I’d share what I explored to answer the ‘what next’ question for myself and how you can use it to filter your possibilities.
Imagine a pool of water; this pool is being fed by three rivers. The kinds of fish that will thrive in the pool obviously depend on the kind of water they are in, which in turn is dictated by the unique combination of water coming from each of the three different rivers. In the same way, I believe that the kinds of jobs that fit well into someone’s pool of options, i.e. those they will enjoy and thrive in, are dependent on the unique combination of three different elements feeding who they are right now: the difference they want to make, their values, and their strengths and motivated skills.
The difference you want to make
Simon Sinek describes this as your ‘why’. If you know your why then you are likely to find it easier to make decisions and to be more engaged in and energised by what you are doing; this YouTube clip is wonderful demonstration of the difference that why can make. I also think that exploring your why means that your answer to that basic interview question, “Why do you want this job?”, will become more authentic and heartfelt. If you’re not sure what your why is, here are a few questions to get you started:
- If you could make one difference before you leave this world, what would it be?
- What have you done so far that has made you come alive; is there a common theme?
- Outside of fiction, what do you choose to read and watch? What blogs do you subscribe to? What thought leaders do you follow? Is there a connection?
When you identify your purpose, you’ll discover that there are any number of ways in which you could make the difference you want to make. For example, I’m pretty sure my why is about helping people to write a great life story for themselves, and I could choose any number of different career paths/jobs to bring that purpose to life… and have. However, not all the options would sit comfortably with me or carry the same level of motivation and enjoyment, so there’s something else to add to the mix.
Your values are at the core of your being and they matter… a lot! Your values influence your experience of the world. When what you do and the way you behave is in line with your values, you feel content and satisfied, but when they’re not, you’re likely to feel unsettled and unhappy. There may be any number of jobs that would allow you to make the difference you want to make in the world, but if any of those jobs rub up against your core values, they’re unlikely to be a good match. To articulate your core values, you can start with questions such as:
- What do I really care about; what would I fight for?
- When have I felt most at ease with my life? What was happening at those times?
- What things make me feel fulfilled?
- What gets me angry? (anger can be a sign that our values have been violated)
Your strengths and motivated skills
Your strengths and motivated skills are the things you’re good at and that you love doing; in fact, you’ve probably become good at them because you love doing them and are, therefore, happy to put the effort in to hone them. Ken Robinson calls this sweet spot the element. If you can find a job that makes best use of your strengths and motivated skills, you’re more likely to be engaged and fulfilled at work, and you will continue to grow and develop.
You can start exploring your motivated skills by identifying your achievements so far, i.e. things from your life that you believe you did well, you enjoyed doing and you’re proud of. They don’t have to be big things; the little things count too. They also don’t have to be recent; when I used this exercise, I went right back to my time at school when my friend and I ran a cake baking and decorating service one Christmas. Once you’ve made a list, pick the achievements that really stand out for you and think about all the skills that you used in each of those. When you’ve made a list for each achievement, you can look for patterns; are there any skills that you’ve consistently used across all those achievements? Which of these skills did you most enjoy using?
The VIA Institute is also an interesting place to start exploring your strengths. Drawing on the expertise and guidance of a number of leading psychologists, they have created an online survey designed to identify your strongest qualities, which has been used by millions of people worldwide. You can use the tool and get a basic report from them free of charge.
How the framework helps
Knowing the unique composition of the water in your jobs pool gives you a framework to select and deselect possibilities. That clown fish might look fantastic, but if you have a freshwater pool, that saltwater fish isn’t going to last long. In the same way, that job as a lawyer might look very prestigious and exciting, but if you hate dealing with detail or long working hours violate your values, then it’s not a good job option to add to your pool.
If you’re considering a career option, you can also use your framework as a basis for conversations with people already doing the job to see whether it’s really a good fit for you. If you’re no longer feeling it in your current role, you can return to your framework to consider what’s changed, e.g. is it that the company’s values have changed and no longer match yours, in which case the same job role somewhere else would be an option, or is it that your own values have changed and you need to reconsider this type of role? And if you’re considering starting your own business, you’ve got a starting point for deciding whether it’s a viable option for you, and what kind of business it might need to be.
Remember that the composition of your pool will likely change over time too. Changes in your circumstances might mean that your values shift and some jobs will no longer fit in your pool, whereas developing new skills could increase the number of motivated skills in your repertoire and mean that other jobs can be added to the pool. Life doesn’t stand still, and nor do we. Enjoy exploring!
Some recommended onward reading if you’re interested in exploring further (no, I’m not on commission):
- Ken Robinson, The Element: How finding your passion changes everything
- Simon Sinek, Start With Why
If you’d like support to explore your framework, get in touch for an informal chat about how coaching can help.