My client is angry. "I DID all those exercises you gave me, and I STILL don't know what I want!" She's a brilliant analyst, able to synthesize complex data and create impressive solutions. . .except when it came to her own career. One reason was she had neglected to spread out those pages and see what conclusions she would draw from her own information. There were two larger possibilities, however: fear of deciding about herself and the possibility there might not be some one grand career for her.
Fear of Deciding
When we begin our work life, we seldom know what we want to be when we grow up. We don't know our strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and capabilities because we haven't been in the work world to know. And we certainly don't want to close off any options. As we learn about ourselves we begin to understand what works for us and what doesn't; what we're willing to do and go for; what our "No's" are. We also admit - with great reluctance - we may not be as ambitious as we thought we were. . .not that we'll reveal it in a performance evaluation! The self-knowledge process can be delayed or stymied because we're afraid to admit who we are. "I'm never going to be good at: managing up, playing politics, filing, details, technology." When you declare what you're good at, you can go for what will give you that and avoid situations that require doing what you're NOT good at. We are fearful because we don't want to lose any opportunity. Maturity is acknowledging: "Here's who I am, strengths and weaknesses, dreams and limitations; and I'm going to live who I am."
Myth of the Grand Career
About three-fourths of new clients will tell me they want "to know what I want to be when I grow up," and as I've watched how few of them are willing to go through the self-analysis process or to go for what they want because of obligations or obstacles, I wonder if it isn't really a myth that there's ONE BIG THING we should be. Some find a word for what they want: doctor, lawyer, missionary. So many of the rest of us live in less defined worlds of manager, sales rep, contract administrator. It's not what we aspired to; it's what we became as we were waiting for the dream to show up. What I know about doctors is they get MBAs so they can get out of restrictive medical environments. Lawyers want the heck out of a punishing, boring field. Missionaries want to be professional speakers. In other words, few of us remotely know what we want to be when we grow up; and we live vaguely frustrated lives believing we should know, feeling we're not quite living up to our possibilities.
What if we took a different look at our career? Look at your life as lived thus far. Did you have a clue ten years ago that you'd be doing THIS today? Twenty years ago? No way. Some people are living what they want; I promise you, they're rare. Maybe we should take a shorter view than the Career Grand Slam.
It's important to do that self-assessment, to know yourself, warts and all; to know what would make you happy. Why don't you get as much of that into the job you have now? Why don't you insist on it in career discussions with your manager? "I'm happiest when I can be a subject matter expert working with higher levels in the company." It gives management something to chew on rather than slot you anywhere as they've done to date. Your indecision has been their convenience. Change that dynamic.
Rather than staying frustratedly unaware of the Big Career Goal, what if you just decide and go for what's your right "Next." For example, you love horses to your toes. What if you move to Kentucky and get as close as you can, with your existing background and experience, to those stables and velvet muzzles? A "Next" like this could be way more interesting than the program for the elderly that has you languishing. I believe that if you keep living toward your interesting "Next," you can eventually find yourself living in your Career Dream.
Know yourself, commit to giving yourself what makes you happy right where you are now, focus on your right "Next" and keep your antennae up so you'll recognize The Dream when it sneaks up on you.