Launching From The Job/Career Rut

Yesterday, I blogged about the Career Rut. Today, I’d like to continue with some thoughts on escaping it’s hold on you and moving forward successfully.

The big challenge for many is once having come to the decision that they want something different than what they are currently doing, the immense challenge becomes WHAT to do. The only thing that’s become clear is what is no longer wanted.

This is a period of flux, of uncertainty and should be both anticipated and embraced. After all, you’re stepping away from what you’ve done in the recent past (or perhaps present) and you’ve been using skills you’ve mastered and understand to do the work you no longer love. As your energy has previously been poured into that work, it may have drained your energy reserves sufficiently that of consequence, you’ve not been able to look with enthusiasm at what might come next.

When we were children and in our emerging teen years, if we were fortunate, we had parents and role models who encouraged us to do different things. They exposed us to arts and crafts, sports, reading, music and took us places to see interesting things. Simultaneously, they stoked our imaginations with the idea that we might be anything we put our minds to; the world was ours to explore.

How ironic it is that now as adults with expanded skills and experiences behind us, that we feel diminished in our choices; conventional thoughts limit our options, and we tell ourselves, “I can’t do that!” Those same role models of our past now worry that we’re going to make some regrettable decision to quit our stable employment for the uncertainty of something new.

What you know however, is the mental anguish, strain and stress of your current unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. To save yourself from growing increasingly bitter and despondent, change must happen. And I say, good for you! Save yourself!

If you know what you want to do then by all means get going! If the career you have in mind requires additional education and retraining, go for it and consider your time preparing for this new role as an investment in yourself. Well done.

If however, you’re feeling just as stuck, now wondering what it is you should do, there are things you can also do to move forward. One key thing is to assess not just what skills you have, but determine what skills you have THAT YOU WISH TO USE NEXT. These are highly probable to be transferable skills; ones you can apply to various occupations and jobs such as organization, punctuality, communication and interpersonal skills. You may have job specific skills you decide to either leave behind or take with you too. These are the skills you acquired and developed in your past role such as a software program, driving a specialized vehicle or teaching a specific subject. Complete an inventory now of the skills you have and emphasize the ones you want to use moving forward.

Now it truly depends on your mental state as to your next step. You might be very well served in looking for a short-term job rather than a career, that stimulates your need for something new. One that you can handle well and be successful at to reinforce your self-worth, yet one that you can walk away from when your longer term career objective reveals itself. Purely as an example, suppose you look to drive a school bus. There you would use communication skills, punctuality, organization and certainly interpersonal skills; the very transferable skills you earlier identified you want to use moving forward.

The thing is to look at a variety of jobs and envisioning yourself in those roles, determine what might be appealing. Driving your bus would distance you from the overseeing, micromanaging boss you want to avoid. It might give you that independence to work, yet still come with responsibility and perhaps the gratitude from riders and their parents would fill a void you only dreamed of in past roles where you were unappreciated.

Breaking free of the rut you’re now in is exhilarating, uplifting and liberating. You’re free!

Next up, you may decide that your short-term job turns out to be just the answer you wanted. Equally possible, you may decide that with your mental crisis of being in a rut over, you can now see with greater clarity what you might truly like to move to next. Had you stayed in your previous role, that clarity would never have come about.

The right time to leap forward and find new employment shouldn’t be determined by the market, when your mortgage or car is paid off or after the kids are all in University. The right time is when your inner voice that you’ve been listening to for some time finally gets through and tells you this is the right time.

Career Counsellors and Mental Health Counsellors are options you might want to have conversations with. Share what’s on your mind with people you trust because you might find that sharing illuminates possibilities.

The Case For Honest Self-Assessment

If you’re a regular reader of mine, you may know that one piece of advice I often recommend is to conduct a self-assessment. Taking stock of your assets and liabilities is good practice whether you’re just about to look for employment, you’re thinking about advancing in an organization or you’re happily content in your current role. Knowing yourself well and being able to articulate that knowledge is a wonderful thing.

With the value of self-assessment being said, let me add that unless you do so objectively and honestly, there’s little value in the results. So whether you’re in some facilitator-led group or you’re doing one of the numerous self-assessments online, answering each question put before you has to be answered truthfully or your results are skewed.

I have a personal regret that goes all the way back to my high school days with respect to this. I can still recall doing some career assessments conducted by my school’s guidance staff. Back then, I was working part-time for a Municipal Parks and Recreation Community Centre and was absolutely convinced that my future employment would continue to be in that field. Despite the direction to answer honestly, I gave in to the temptation of answering all the questions in such a way that I believed would direct the results to the field I was interested in. The results were predictable; I’d have a career working in the field of Recreation. To this day I wonder what might have revealed itself had I kept completely open to the process and answered each question without bias.

A colleague at work told me that she too succumbed to shaping her own results way back in her own high school days. While my part-time employment factored into my answers, the influence of her then boyfriend and where he was headed in life caused her to answer her questions with a lean to working in the Chemistry field. She actually started post-secondary school taking Chemistry and after a very brief time realized that for her it was the most boring thing she could experience. Both she and I are Employment Counsellors working in Social Services. Funny how these assessments don’t work out when you intentionally skew the answers and impact the results!

Now yesterday I had a fellow approach me with a different kind of issue. With my guidance, he had just completed 7 days of self-assessments. Like my high school Guidance staff, I too implored those in the class I led to answer truthfully and stay open to the possible results that each assessment generated. This gentleman thought he did so, but on the final day he suddenly realized after something I said in my closing remarks that he had not answered the questions completely honestly. He has an arthritic condition, and so when he answered all the questions put to him over those 7 days, he answered always with his limitation in mind.

The results in his case suggested to him that he’d be best working doing what he’s been doing for years. This not being an option, he now wonders what would the results be if he was to redo all the assessments given with no limitations to his thinking. In fact, he asked me if it was possible to get a blank assessment for each of the activities and do the work on his own. Obviously generating personal results matters to him because he’s asking to repeat a great deal of work he’s just done.

What I find particularly incredible is that I wager if you can recall doing some kind of career/self assessment in high school, you likely haven’t done another one since. Why do I find this incredible? Well, simply put we all evolve. So like me, you’ve changed since your high school days. You’ve developed new interests, your beliefs and values have shifted as you expose yourself to more people. Likewise, your knowledge of careers has expanded; positions exist that didn’t when you walked the high school halls. You’ve had experience working for various bosses, you know yourself differently and experience the world differently than you did as an adolescent teenager. So it stands to reason you should get to know yourself as you are now.

I see great value now in investing in some self-assessment every 10 years or thereabouts. Perhaps when some major life changes occur it would be a valuable exercise to check in with your core beliefs, values, problem resolution styles, set some short and long-term SMART goals, and be able to articulate your personal philosophy. When was the last time you were able to do that?

Know thyself. Not surprisingly, knowing yourself intimately AND being able to communicate what you know about yourself to others is a fabulous strength one can have. When you know yourself, you can easily express who you are and what you’re after in a job interview, or when conversing with your current employer and developing a career plan.

If you find yourself jumping from job to job, searching for something that will bring you satisfaction and happiness; you know, that THING that will feed your passion, maybe this is it.

Weigh the cost of paying to sit down with a Career professional and be guided in this career exploration/self assessment process vs. all the time and money you’ve lost moving from job to job trying to find what to now has proved elusive.

Must A Short-Term Job Be In Your Career Field?

I had the opportunity yesterday to listen as a 22 year-old woman explained to her fellow classmates what job or career she was after. She cited her long-term objective in Policy Development and went on to say that in the short-term she would do just about anything but it absolutely had to be related to her long-term objective or she’d feel it was a waste of her time.

So how do you feel about that statement? Would you agree that short-term jobs should be related to your own long-term goals in order to be a valuable use of your time?

It’s commendable of course that she’s got a long-term career objective. While it’s not mandatory in order to have a rewarding career, having a vision of what you want and knowing how you’re going to achieve it is one way to successfully move forward. It is, and I say with personal experience, not the only recipe for success.

This I hope comes as good news if you feel anxious about what your future holds. If you should be undecided about what you want to do on a long-term basis, it can feel paralyzing as well in the short-term should you feel you can’t apply for jobs not knowing if they’ll help you or not in the long run.

Allow me to share a little of my own experience in the hopes you might find it comforting. It wasn’t until 13 years ago, back in 2006 that I became an Employment Counsellor. That would put me at 46 years old as I embarked on what has been a rewarding, successful and fulfilling career. Prior to this I’d held a variety of different positions; some of them careers and others I’d call jobs. Whichever they were at the time didn’t really concern me as much as enjoying each I had, finding the pros and cons of each once in them and moving on when the cons outweighed the pros.

I didn’t have a long-term goal to work towards. I didn’t in my early twenties, even know that Employment Counsellors existed, so it was impossible therefore for me to have aspired to be one. Further, I suspect that had I graduated out of University and immediately had the fortune to be hired as an Employment Counsellor, my effectiveness would be very different without my life experiences to draw on.

Looking back in no particular order, I ran my own New and Cooperative Games business for 16 years after a year-long position working for the Province of Ontario; sold shoes and clothes; worked at a bowling alley; a video store; worked as a Programme Manger for a Boys and Girls Club; have been an Executive Director for a Social Services agency; worked for two municipalities as a Social Services Caseworker, and another for years in the field of Recreation. I have also worked in the private sector as an Area Supervisor, leading those who provided care in schools before, between and after classes. I’ve sold photography equipment in a mall, worked in a toy department of a major retailer, even spent one day filling in for a friend in a hot plastics factory. I’ve got summer residential camp experience, sat on volunteer boards and committees too. One year I was asked to lead an International Drug Awareness team in St. Lucia.

Whew! All over the map and one of the best examples I can think of where there sure doesn’t appear to be a linear history of progressive experience in the same field. I’ve worked for a province, two municipalities, the private and non-profit sectors as well as having been self-employed. My work has been in Retail, Recreation, Social Services and the Education sectors. I’ve also been on the front-line, middle management and senior management. I’ve had employment ended, quit, been promoted, been on strike, had to reinvent myself, and build up skills I didn’t know I had, use transferable skills and learn job-specific skills. In short, I’ve become resilient.

Now, here’s the best part. If you can believe it, all of these experiences have shaped who I am, how I think and act, given me empathy and understanding for a wide diversity of people with whom I partner. In short, I’m a decent Employment Counsellor today at 59 years-old BECAUSE of the path I took to get here.

My 22 year-old woman will likely change careers and jobs over the course of her lifetime. Jobs she eventually holds and loves might not even exist in 2019; maybe they’ll appear in 2032. Who knows?

Advice I believe to be sound is to gain experiences; paid and unpaid. Learn from what you do not just about the work, but how you feel as you do it. Always do your best to reward those who hired you and best serve those you call customers, clients, etc. You never know where life will take you; which job you may return to having left once (as I did). Treat employees and your Supervisors well for these are your future references.

All of the combined experiences I’ve had – just as you are collecting your own – are the things that are going to uniquely position us for jobs moving forward. “Why should I hire you?” is my favourite interview question. I can draw on all my past experiences; both the pros and the cons. Nobody out there has the same path as me. Or you for that matter!

Career Planning Isn’t Mandatory

So here’s something that might surprise you; long-term career planning and mapping is NOT a mandatory requirement for career happiness and success. Well, that statement certainly flies in the face of the advice some very well-meaning professionals will give. And quite frankly, even the ones that acknowledge it isn’t absolutely mandatory will be wrong if they believe that only a small percentage of people reach career happiness without long-term planning.

Here’s why I believe the majority of people need not stress about the lack of some grand long-term plan.

First of all, when you’re in your teens and making choices about what courses to take in high school in order to eventually end up in college, university or a trade, you’re only basing these choices on the very limited exposure you’ve had in life to the world around you. You’re in your early teens and the people you’ve interacted with, the jobs you’ve acquired knowledge of are extremely confined to the ones you’re going to learn of in the next decade of your life. In other words, excepting some of course, it’s highly likely that with all the jobs that exist in the world – and will emerge in your future that don’t even exist in your teen years – the odds that what you want to do at 15 and 16 years of age will be what you’ll want to do until you’re 65 is very low.

In fact many high school graduates will take a year off before deciding what to do or what school to attend, simply to give themselves a year to make a better choice career-wise. Some will even do what they call a victory lap; another year of high school classes after graduating.

Further evidence are the people in first year university classes who take 5 very different subjects, just praying and hoping the light bulb goes on in that first year, and something grabs their interest. Maybe the first year classes include World Religions, Introduction to Philosophy, British Literature, Introduction to Sociology, and Introduction to Psychology. Oh by the way, these 5 were my own in year one. As it turns out, Sociology caught fire and so I loaded up with future courses to eventually graduate with a degree in Sociology.

In transitioning from a teen into a young adult, it is normal to expand your knowledge of various jobs and careers. As you start interacting independently with the world, responsible more often for things yourself, it only stands to reason that every so often some job catches your interest. Learning about the world around you and the people who live in it, many find themselves attracted to what others do. It follows naturally then that every so often you pause and think, “I could do that!”

Now of course we don’t act on every whim we get, but if we’re unsatisfied, curious, searching for something better or different, open to possibilities etc., we live consciously observing and then assessing pros and cons of various occupations. Sometimes we’ll also have conversations with folks in these jobs, asking them what they do, what skills and education it takes, how long they took to get started, the highs and lows, the good and the bad aspects of the work. Then we look and assess ourselves, what we both have and need if we wanted to head down some career path branching out from the path we’re on now.

This is normal by the way. To stay completely rigid, never varying from the path we imagined and set out on at 15 years old in this light seems the more peculiar. And yet, when we do decide to change our direction, for many it seems so hard to tell our parents, family and friends that we’ve had a change in what we want to do. Yes, we fear they’ll somehow think less of us; they’ll worry and think we’re indecisive and making an ill-informed choice. However, these family and friends haven’t been privy to the thoughts we’ve had – the deep, inner thoughts and feelings we’ve been experiencing for some time. It’s precisely these thoughts and feelings by the way that have acted as our guidance system. The more they cause us unease, the more we believe there has to be something else.

Even into our late 20’s and all the way into our 30’s and 40’s, it’s not uncommon for us to re-examine what it is we want to do with the rest of our lives. And why stop there? People in their 50’s and 60’s often take stock of where they are and what they want in their remaining working days often causing a job change.

When people near the end of their working life, it’s the norm – not the exception – that they’ll have amassed a varied career with several jobs and some career changes. Rather than meaning they fluttered from job to job aimlessly, it means they were wise enough to seize opportunities for change as they came along in life; and in the end they’ve had a diversified career. They may have in fact been very happy overall, where staying in one line of work may have caused them to feel trapped and less stimulated.

Now of course, one can be happy with one long-term career or several careers over a lifetime; even people with many jobs but no single career. Yes, you can win in the world of work any number of ways.


Conversation Starters

There they sit on my desk; a compass, a magnifying glass and a clock. The compass has the inscription, “Life is a journey not a destination.”

Whether it’s after a workshop or someone has dropped in unannounced and would like a word in my office, when someone draws up a chair beside me, these three are close at hand. Invariably, their eyes take in the objects and they make some comment. Picking up on whatever they say, a conversation ensues. Usually I’ll ask them which of the three speaks to them, or which of the three is the most important to them and why.

The compass you see provides direction; it not only helps you find your way when you’re lost, it can help keep you on track when you know which way you’re headed. The magnifying glass brings things which are small and hard to see into focus; enlarging them. The clock? Well the clock never stops does it? Time is moving on and the seconds that pass as we talk about time can never be reclaimed or experience again once they’ve ticked past. Time? Time to get going. Lest you see the clock as only marking regret for time lost, the clock can also be a blessing if it reminds a person they have time ahead of them as well; time to spend.

Now the thing about the three is that neither is more important than the other, but to any one person at the point we meet, one will take on greater importance than the others. To someone confused about their career direction, what they want to achieve or do – the compass and the direction it implies is what they want more than anything. To someone with multiple barriers or so many things going on in their life they find it difficult to give their job search the focus it requires, the magnifying glass speaks. The clock maybe not surprisingly, speaks more to the mature or older people who take up the seat next to me. Younger people in their 20’s say, well, they believe they have all the time in the world; certainly enough that the clock isn’t as ominous as it will be one day.

It was out in a store during a busy Christmas shopping trip that I spied the three. They weren’t assembled as you see them in the photo here. No, they were in various parts of the store, but it was the line of work I’m in and the conversations I have many of that first brought to mind the idea of assembling them together. My brain just works this way; always thinking of creative ideas. Even now as I write, I think about the old-fashioned journals so popular in book stores, and how one of these and a quill pen might be good additions, for those who’d like a fresh page to begin writing the stories that make up a life. However, maybe my desk might get a little cluttered?

They are pretty good conversation starters though. The nice thing is that I don’t have to actually say anything to get conversations going. While we talk walking down to my office, sometimes I’ll take just a fraction of a minute to let them get settled in as I load their personal file or feign moving a few things around on the desk to give them room. The objects before them draw their attention in and while most just make a remark, some will ask if they can hold one. “Why that one?” I’ll ask.

And that’s all it takes. It’s not so much about the ones a person didn’t take up or talk about, even though all three are important. No, the most important thing is just to listen and comment on what I hear. A question here or there; sometimes what they share is better, more relevant and certainly much quicker delivered than had I asked a slew of questions. In fact, a litany of questions might come out more like an interrogation!

Work spaces are very personal areas. Do you have pictures, quotes, maybe a combination of the two, other articles etc. that draw out or inspire conversation? Would you be willing to chime in with a comment about what you strategic place in your work area, why you’ve chosen what you have and the impact of those things on those who come into your space?

It would be interesting to share, to read and perhaps for some to copy. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have objects around them for conversation; possibly others even have the same three objects as I do. Sometimes, I move the clock so it faces me and I substitute in an hourglass. Same kind of device to mark the passing of time; the thing about the hourglass is people like to flip it over. so it becomes interactive. Time appears to stop when the last crystal of sand drops, but of course it stops no more than the clock does when it’s battery expires. Time marches on.

These I have penned about before, so if my musings sound reminiscent of a post past, good for you for recognizing the recurring theme. The interesting thing is sometimes a person returns to my office after some time and they suddenly recall the three, and they remark how their priorities have shifted. That’s groovy.

“Job? I Just Need A Resume”

Yesterday I stood facing and talking with 5 people who had shown up at a résumé workshop. Before we really got started, I engaged them in some small talk, asking each person what job or career they were looking for. Here’s who was in the room:

  • A late 40’s woman with 20 years experience working with the homeless who stated she had no formal degree or diploma in the field, but did have a certificate in the hairdressing industry.
  • A 60-year-old man who said he could no longer do what he’d done much of his life and didn’t really have any idea what he wanted to do for the next 5-8 years of his life in terms of work.
  • A couple in their 40’s who looked like they’d lived a rough life; him with no computer skills at all, her with grade 8 education. They’d both lost their jobs as a Superintendent couple due to some negligence on their part. They too had no idea what they wanted to do – they just needed resumes though to get work.
  • A late 20’s year old guy who wanted a factory job – for now. He had no idea of a long-term goal, but was somewhere between no longer wanting to wash dishes and whatever he’d eventually do.

Okay, so of the 5 people above, the fellow in his 20’s is the only one who knows what job he’s after. He’s the one who you could sit with one-to-one and start looking for factory or warehouse jobs and build a targeted resume. In doing so, it  becomes necessary to take his past experiences and highlight his transferable skills, emphasize his physical stamina, good health, work ethic etc.; the qualities needed by the employers in the job ads we looked at. Good on him for at least knowing what he’d like to do in the short-term while he figures out what to do long-term. He will be at the least, earning some income, learning and improving upon some job skills, and these will keep him attractive to future employers.

The woman who showed up with 20 year’s experience working with the homeless said that she wanted to work with the disadvantaged; be they teens, young adults etc. however, she admitted with no formal training over the past 20 year’s, she was finding it tough. I applauded her for having a pretty accurate picture of her circumstances. She’d be pretty hard-pressed to compete with the competition in her field who would present Child and Youth Worker or Social Service Worker Diploma’s. Her 20 year’s experience might even work against her not for her in the view of some employer’s who want to mold and shape their newest hire without having to have someone leave behind how they’ve done things elsewhere.

To her credit, she’d been thinking of a return to school to get the formal education that would compliment her experience, and vastly improve her employment opportunities. I think what she really needed was the validation of someone in the field agreeing with her that this was a good plan.

Now the 60-year-old man was new to the area, devoid of contacts, resources and knowledge of the community in which he now finds himself. I felt for him; here he was with an active, intelligent mind but a body that no longer let him to do the physical work he’d done his whole life. Reinventing himself at 60 was scary; where to begin? What to do? Time slipping by each day he delayed in moving ahead but not having any idea what direction to move in. Hard to do a résumé when the desired goal is so clouded, so for him the answer wasn’t a resume at all but rather a career exploration class with a healthy number of self-assessments to get a better handle on his skills, interests and abilities.

The couple? They were the most challenging to me. Insistent on just needing a résumé for each of them but again no idea of what the résumé was made for. With no interest in taking the time to better understand themselves, their interests etc., they were just focused on getting a résumé – any résumé it seemed. When I hear this from people, I believe there is a motive existing I’m unaware of. Who needs the résumé really? The person themselves or someone else; like a Caseworker, a government agency, someone providing them with help – provided they show up with a résumé. Hey I might be wrong but….

In each case, I didn’t make a résumé at all. Rather, I booked each of them  in for a personal resume consultation of an hour and a half. Between the first meeting yesterday and their appointed times, I’ve asked them to look at what’s available and come with a better idea of what they might like to do. A specific job posting makes crafting a résumé so much more beneficial.

“But if I bring you an ad”, began the guy with the spouse, “and you make me a résumé for that job, then I’ll need another one when I apply for another job.” I guess I’d got my point across after all; one resume for one job and a separate resume for each job application. He gets it. I know it sounds daunting – especially for someone with no computer skills. A class on basic computer skills is a good idea to get started.

The Pressure To Choose

At 8 years old, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

At 13 years old, “You should start thinking about getting a part-time job.”

At 15 years old, “Are you taking College or University level courses in school?”

At 17 years old, “What Universities or Colleges are you looking at going to?”

At 19 years old, “What will that degree or diploma qualify you to be?” Are you sure?”

At 24 years old, “You changed your mind! What are you going to be?”

At 30 years old, “You’re changing careers?  Again? So what’s it going to be now?”

At 36 years old, “I’m sorry things aren’t working out. “What’ll make you happy?”

At 45 years old, “What are you going to do with your life? Such a disappointment.”

At 55 years old, “Had you made better choices, you’d be retired by now.”

At 60 years old, “So what are you going to do with the next 5 years of your life?”

At 65 years old, “It’s a shame really. Such potential and no life savings, poor dear.”

Maybe this sounds familiar in part or in whole. Interesting when you put the sequence of questions together though and look at them in their entirety. Can you spot the questions that are truly asked to seek information and separate them from the questions that really show others expectations and judgements?

When you’re the one asking out of genuine interest, the questions seem innocent enough. Perhaps you’re the grandparent or parent with an inquisitive nature; you want the best for your grandchild or child, and you see the world before them. They can be anything and anyone they choose to be; the possibilities are endless!

However, on the receiving end, you may well remember the angst you felt yourself when the question was turned to you. First of all it’s improbable as a child that you’d even know the majority of jobs that you could find rewarding. You’re limited to considering an occupation based on what you’ve been personally exposed to. As a very young child, many want to be a Doctor, Fire Fighter, Dentist or Teacher because these are within the limits of what they’ve seen or experienced.

By the time high school is underway, your already being told to choose university or college level courses, most often without any real idea of what either experience might be best for you personally. For many, a school official may have reasoned you were bright enough for university or you were intellectually challenged and university would prove far too difficult. Though well-meaning, you were encouraged to take the college level classes, or you were introduced to a trade as a viable alternative because you were good with your hands.

Yes, people feel a lot of pressure and anxiety when feeling they have to pick a career. Even in a job interview, employers often ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Or they might ask, “How does this position fit with your overall career goals?” Ever sat there and realized you have no idea whatsoever? You haven’t thought much beyond just getting this job and you’ve no career goals that come to mind?

Well if you’re fortunate enough to know what it is you want to do and you’re working the plan to get there, I say good for you! Excellent in fact! Well done! With a long-term goal you can get help mapping out the steps along the way you need to take to eventually arrive at your destination of choice. That’s commendable.

However, if you have no long-term goal in mind, or you’re torn between 4 things that you find appealing, you might be thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just decide on something and be normal like everyone else? I’m such a loser!”

Well, you’re not a loser for starters, and no, not everyone else has it figured out. In fact, only a handful of people know what they want to be when they are children and years later emerge in life fully satisfied in the same profession they once only dreamed of. For the majority – the vast majority – as we grow up we meet people in different roles, and the more we see and interact with, the more we have new information to consider.

If you want an answer to that question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, that will be 100% right, tell them, “Older.”

Now depending on who is asking, realize that as parents and grandparents, they care about you. They are naturally curious to hear your thoughts. Even if you have no idea or you’re confused, it’s okay to say exactly that. It’s better than just saying, “I don’t know” and closing the door to your bedroom, shutting them out.

Good advice is to talk with people about their jobs. Gain some experience by doing some various things and pay attention to what you find pleasing and personally rewarding. Equally as valuable, pay attention to what you find unsatisfactory. You don’t have to choose one career and stick with it until you retire. That’s not the only success.

Success could be changing jobs several times over your lifetime, making full use of different skills as you acquire them, leading where you once followed, or taking on a new challenge to stretch yourself. You might head back to school and you might not. There’s no one formula for success.

Be true to yourself. Maybe – just maybe – that’s a good thing to be as you grow up.

Career Planning Vs. Happenstance

You’re going about forging your career path and personal reputation in one of two ways; by design or by happenstance. Which is it?

If you go about your career and building your personal reputation by happenstance you get points for being genuine and authentic, but you score low on forward-thinking, long-term planning and most importantly putting yourself in a position to seize opportunities you want as they arise. People who come into contact with you in your business or work life will form opinions of you based on their interactions with you and by observing your actions with others.

Now that’s not bad actually; people forming their opinions of you based on your actions. However, with little forethought for future planning, you may be viewed as perfect for the job you currently hold while on the downside not being seen as having upward potential within an organization. The next job or two on the career ladder no doubt require additional skills and subtle changes in behaviour, thinking and/or actions, and you may not be communicating to others that you have the additional skills, motivation, leadership etc. that is required.

If we turn and look at forging your career path and personal reputation or branding by design, how you go about things changes.

Take a Lion Tamer in the circus. You and I might not intimately know the person but we can imagine the job and the job description; essentially demonstrate to the audience how you can direct the Lion to do certain things and do it safely while appearing to do so with a great deal of danger and risk. Wow them with entertainment and survive the encounter with the ferocious King of the Jungle!

Okay, a little dramatic but that’s essentially the job. For a time, the Lion Tamer may be happy and content to play the role from town to town, from month to month, even year to year. At some point, the Lion Tamer might say to her or himself, “Is this all there is? I want to do more.”

The others who surround him in the circus may look at him as simply, The Lion Tamer. She or he’s been doing it for years, they do a great job of it and they’ve built a reputation so well amongst their peers that no one sees them as doing – let alone wanting to do – anything else. What then of the ambitions of the Lion Tamer who grows increasingly hungry for a change? Maybe they want to take on a role as Master of Ceremonies or Business Manager for the circus. Suddenly those around her or him are challenged to see the person who is the Lion Tamer in a different light. This can be a huge challenge if they’ve never seen or been exposed to seeing the Lion Tamer any other way.

What if however, the person who tames the lions indicated an interest in learning the business side of the Circus and routinely split her/his time between working with the big cats and on  their own time read business publications and journals, befriended the Accountant, talked long into the night over drinks with the current Business Manager and saw what went into moving the Circus from town to town with audiences lined up and ready to invest their entertainment dollars.

If the Lion Tamer got around to applying to be the Business Manager down the road, it wouldn’t come as a surprise because those around him would say, “Not a surprise. We all saw it coming. Good for her/him, we’re in good hands!”

Okay enough about Lion Tamers. (Why Lion Tamers came into my head this morning is beyond me.) What about you? You might be pretty good in your job; maybe we could go as far as saying you are wonderful in your job. At some point it’s conceivable that no matter how happy and challenged you are, you just might want an additional challenge, an increase in responsibilities and pay, or a shift in your responsibilities.

Does that make sense to you? I think most of you will agree the job you’re in now isn’t the job you want to retire from; depending of course where you are on the age scale. Now then is the time to start doing a little forward thinking. What positions within the organization can you identify that might be of interest to you personally? Would applying for those positions be something you’d like to do this year, next year, 1-3 years from now? What can and should you do therefore to position yourself to take advantage of the opening when it comes about?

Positioning yourself is done in two ways; ensuring you gain the skills and qualifications to apply with confidence and ensuring others in the organization perceive you as having the interest, skills, qualifications and personal fit for the role. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can acquire the skills and qualifications alone and advance. It’s often who in the organization knows you and sees you as being a strong candidate.

You might want to have a low-key conversation with your Supervisor and express your long-term organizational goals. Maybe you ask for learning opportunities, temporary assignments, mentorship, additional training etc. Maybe a conversation with someone in Human Resources would be helpful or with your bosses permission, an introductory meeting with someone in the role you’re after to get their insights.


The Roles We Play: A Good Exercise

Throughout our personal and professional lives, we take on different roles, becoming more or less important to those with whom we interact. We are a son or daughter to our parents, perhaps a brother or sister if we have siblings. We have been or continue to be students to those who have taught or teach us now. If and when we are employed, we are a colleague, co-worker and employee. Should we be out of work but looking, we are a job seeker.

In our work locations we have different roles of course. In addition to being an employee, we also have a specific job title. We are a Clerk, Sales Representative, Custodian, Labourer or Attendant for example. In addition to these titles, we may be the go-to person for some expertise we possess. We might be in the role of Mentor, Supervisor, Support Staff, Reception, Guide or Leader. Merging these roles we are a Custodial Supervisor, a Reception Clerk or Sales Leader.

Others see us and place varying values on us as individuals in the roles we play. While someone might value us as an indispensable colleague, it’s probable others who hold a differing view of our value. It’s also fair and accurate to say that others perception of us and our role can change over time. Where they saw us as a mentor or tutor in helping them get started, there comes a time when they see us as their equal; their partner or peer. We might come to value our Supervisor over time, changing our view of them and / or their role.

So it is safe to say that we have a number of roles we are simultaneously playing throughout our lives. How often do you pause to consider all the roles you play? Right now; at this present time, you are probably more aware of the role you play (or want to play) with respect to some relationships than you are of others. If you have a child who is expecting their own first child, you may be so excited at your future role of Grandparent, that you share your current role as an Expectant Grandparent. It’s as if you can’t wait for the role to be official, so you create one role that relies on a future event, (the birth of the grandchild) to make your new title and role a reality.

There can be times at work when the role we see ourselves playing, and the role others would like us to play differ. We may be content to play the role of the one who likes to work in isolation and with autonomy. However we may find ourselves being encouraged or assigned the roles of team leader, mentor or advisor. Or where we once worked happily in a large space with walls, we might find ourselves moved to where there are no walls, offices and cubicles, requiring us to be more sociable and engaging. We may have to clarify our role if a chatty person sees us in the role of Socializer and we don’t want that role.

So what does this role awareness do for us? It can be of tremendous value in achieving a measure of happiness if we know a role we want to play, leading us to acquiring the skills, experience and connections we’ll need to make that desired role a reality. So if you come to value the role of leadership and being legitimately seen and valued as a Leader, you look for opportunities to lead, building one experience at a time. You then turn your growing experience as a Leader into greater opportunities citing earlier experiences as your new-found qualifications.

Conversely, if you are unhappy or dissatisfied in your workplace, examining the role you have and the role you’d like might illuminate your discontent. You may wish to be perceived as a Leader, but if your colleagues don’t see you in that role, you may be consistently frustrated or disappointed. If you’ve ever looked at someone and thought, “I’d like to do their job”, or “I’d be good in the role”, you get the idea. What you’re really doing is seeing yourself in another role and realizing your desire for it. If it’s appealing to the point where you want it bad enough, move to position yourself to take advantage. If that role is scary or unpleasant, (as in, “I’d die if I had to give a presentation like they do!”) you’re not going to move in that direction.

A good exercise both individually and in groups is to take a sheet of paper and list all the roles you and others have played both in the past and in the present. We are Customers when we buy, Browsers when we just look. We are Riders on the bus, Residents in our apartments, Clients perhaps with the utility companies, Friends of our friends. Some of us will have short lists, others long lists. Some of us will look at others lists and realize there’s more to add on our own. Knowing our roles can be a boost to our self-esteem, see ourselves as connected and valued, and give us direction as we move next to identifying the roles we’d like to have in the future.

Listing and talking about why future roles appeal to us gives insight into the skills and experiences we may wish to acquire.

The Career Success Equation

What motivates you? Probably a number of things when you think about it; your children, money, the desire to acquire something you hold dear, some philanthropic desire to do good – maybe revenge. Not all the things that motivate us are inherently good, yet they motivate us nonetheless.

Whatever the source of our motivation, the benefit is that we are spurred to act; to move with purpose in achieving our goal(s), bringing into our reality the thing(s) that we hope for. Want something badly enough, and we will take the steps we deem necessary to eventually realize the thing(s) we wish for. When we reach our goal(s) we obtain not only the thing(s) we wanted, but a measure of happiness.

There are problems which threaten this equation of identifying what we want, planning to get it, acting the plan, achieving the goal and the happiness that goes with it. Let’s look at what goes wrong when we fail to bring about the end goal of happiness as it pertains to a career.

It’s possible we don’t know what motivates us; we have yet to identify the career that we predict will end in happiness, therefore there is no plan to put in place, nor any actions to take because the goal itself is not defined. Without knowing what it is we want, we can have all the resources in the world, but we cannot put them to use because the motivation just isn’t there without something to apply those resources to. The result is that we float along, witness time passing, feel anxious because we should have some purpose; something to strive for and achieve of value, but it eludes us. We know we’re in the wrong job.  Without a goal that holds meaning, we may feel failure and anxiety just not being able to figure it out. We are if you will, still trying to determine, “What do I want to be?”

Identifying what it is we ultimately want as a career is essential to bringing about our happiness. If we lack the resources to devise a plan, the action we take may be hit and miss; with a great deal of energy spent doing things that bring us no further to our goal. In other words, if the blueprint or steps to achieve the career goal are not clearly identified, it is unlikely we will move toward our goal with any clear direction. Our path is fraught with false starts, wasted time and disappointment, threatening our belief that the achievement of our goal is possible.

Even when we know the career we want and we have the resources to put together a plan to make it happen, there is still no guarantee that we will ultimately succeed. It may well be that we lack the next crucial step; taking the action required to act on the plan. We may feel a career as an Interior Designer would bring us great happiness, and we may know that a return to school is the way to go about getting the required education and training to bring it about. However, we may also fail to act; anxious of the debt we would incur to return to school, fretting over the fear of ultimately failing.

Ironic as it is, there are those who know exactly what they want, and they are intelligent enough to know how to turn that want into reality. However, they fail to act because a small but very influential part of them whispers, “What if we’re wrong? If we go to school and get the education needed, there’ll be nothing to stop us from doing what it is we believe will make us happy. As long as we don’t act the plan, we’ll always have the knowledge that we know what we want. If we act the plan and we’re wrong about this career in the end, then what?” And so this nagging doubt leaves them paralyzed to act and they go about their daily lives with guilt; unsatisfied with the present and living with a dream.

To realize success, we must have a goal, develop a blueprint, gather the resources needed and finally act the plan. So we must have an employment goal that we project we will bring us happiness; something we will be meaningful and put a smile on our face. We then devise a step-by-step plan to move us from where we are to where we want to be. We must then act on the plan, knowing that with each step we achieve, we create movement toward our goal, decreasing the space between where we are at any given moment and our end goal. In acting the plan, we use the resources available to us, and we problem solve as we go, gathering needed resources to overcome our barriers as they present themselves.

As to our goal of being an Interior Designer, why not make it happen? As we feel passion for design, we are confident this is our career of choice. We investigate design courses and schools with reputations for excellence. We apply for funding to assist with our education and invest in our future happiness, excelling because the content is meaningful. We graduate and stand with pride at the end, happy as our goal of becoming an Interior Designer is realized.