“I like what I do, but I want to do more” and “I want to make a change, but I don’t know what it is” are common career-changer phrases. Whether seeking new skills to facilitate career advancement or to reinvent themselves, these individuals are searching for clues and a framework to help plan their next steps.
If the person is feeling “stuck,” I shift their focus away from the present situation, asking questions like “What were your favorite things to do as a kid?” or “Tell me what you were proud of.” Sometimes these questions will garner interesting reactions.
Some people assume that the important information is only found in their post-collegiate resume chronicles. Asking them to not only explore their personal life, but that long, lost place called youth, sometimes comes as a surprise. It’s as if I’ve asked them to visit an alien universe. They have been so indoctrinated into thinking of their life in terms of the terse STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) bullets on their resumes, they have to be coaxed to put their resume to the side and explore their life’s back stories.
I start by asking for examples of things they liked doing, cautioning them not to “edit and censor” their examples or lists. By doing this, we slowly start to rediscover the favored “tools and toys” of their childhood and youth. Every example yields information about their habits, hobbies or behaviors that were performed naturally and willingly in a pre-goal plan and key-deliverables life.
When I hear the words, “This is really nothing—I can’t believe I am sharing this or writing about this,” I know that I am about to hear an important clue. That “nothing” could vary from “I always collected historical trivia” to “I would design cities out of Legos, Lincoln logs and stuff I found in the recyclable bin.” These examples always reveal “informational treasures,” because they show how the person used their time, brain, motor skills and interacted with other humans. More important, these are examples about internally motivated activities that made them feel good about themselves.
I also listen for direct or indirect messages the person received about their examples. Was it viewed as a cool thing, a waste of time or something to be ignored? Were these interests allowed to flourish or not and why?
One emerging professional shared that their mother endured a never-ending expansion of monolithic structures in the small house for years. His subsequent pursuit of a career in engineering was a natural progression based on his history. Because he was clear about his core passions, he was able to focus his energies on planning on how he could leverage his preferred skills and abilities to achieve his goals.
Another individual had some challenges selecting a career path. A financial analyst by training, the work didn’t represent them as whole person. During one conversation, they shared that art played a significant role up through high school, but they had been guided to “Give it less time” when they were college bound. During college, they put art aside completely, because they had gotten the message that it was a “nice to have,” but would not contribute to their collegiate and professional success. Any creative or art-focused role were “non-options” and they were steered towards more practical pursuits.
As our talk progressed, it was apparent that although the individual had not drawn or painted anything for almost a decade, the “inner artist” was functioning in a different capacity. This individual had keen observation skills and an uncanny talent for visualizing information that enabled them to describe complex situations in a user-friendly manner. While this person still had to go through the process of asking “What’s my calling?” and explore alternative career options, their decision to step back and look at themselves like a valuable canvas had been an important life-changing step.
As this individual moved into the networking and interviewing stage of their process, they were able to use their new-found appreciation of their visualization skills and present themselves with authentically and with confidence.
In closing, it’s important to remember that the act of career rediscovery is a whole brain process and not a linear left brain endeavor. Clues regarding our optimal careers and ways of working can be found in every part of our life. To those of us who heeded the guidance to “put away your childish ways or things,” it’s time to revisit the favorite toys and tools of your youth, consider building some self- reflection into your career and/or job change planning process before you start to update your resume or set up meetings.
Take a look at the interests that didn’t appear to be “practical” or “career worthy” and think about how and why they were important to you. More important, ask yourself “Why did they make me happy?” You may uncover some important clues and learn that your gifts have been camouflaged, hiding in plain sight. You might find that with a few simple changes, you can find the work that represents you and feels right.