The Lesson: If you want a fulfilling career, find ways to use your strengths, work within your natural style and stay true to your core values.
The Story: This week has been crazy. The kids are off from school, my house looks like a tornado hit with toys all over the place, and my kitchen looks like my old college dorm room with every unhealthy thing you could imagine pouring out of the cabinets and fridge. In the midst of all the craziness, I have been trying to get some work done including this blog and I’M STUCK. And when I’m stuck, I google for information to get my creative juices flowing. And I found it – a useful, but scary stat to share. My hope is that it encourages those of you who have been stagnant in your career, unfulfilled or unhappy with your work, or hoping for a change but not taking any steps forward, to get moving! Are you ready?
On average, we will spend around 90,000 hours AT WORK.
You read it correctly. 90,000 HOURS. In my kids’ world, that equates to 270,000 Paw Patrol and Sofia the First episodes. YIKES. And that number is on the low end. I saw another number estimating close to 106,000 hours. It got me thinking….
If you are going to spend close to 90,000 hours working in your lifetime, shouldn’t you LOVE it?
I feel fortunate that I enjoy my work, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, for a long time I complained to my husband every night about how much I disliked my work, found it unfulfilling, and counted down the hours to the weekend and even retirement! Sound familiar? So, what changed? How did I find myself in a career that I really enjoy, where I thrive every day and actually look forward to doing? While I don’t have ALL the answers, I have some of them after 16 years of trying to get it right and also helping others on their journeys. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way but I wouldn’t change a thing. If you really want to enjoy the ride, all 90,000 hours of it, there are three things you need to do:
- Use your strengths. Research shows that individuals are more engaged when they are using their strengths. They are happier and more productive because they are doing something they are good at. If you are feeling STUCK or unfulfilled in your job, maybe you aren’t using your strengths. One of my strengths is being future-oriented. I need to be able to think ahead and envision a new way of being and doing. I like to create. For me, the future is like a big white canvas just waiting for me to fill it in with lots of pretty colors. Projects that allow me to collaborate with my clients on creating a new and better future makes me happy. When I find myself doing work where the future is already defined with no creative input from me, I feel dissatisfied. Can you see how this influences the types of projects I engage in? So, what are you really good at? Identify your strengths and then test them with those who know you well. Get validation and ask for examples of them in action. Are there strengths missing from your list? Find opportunities to use and further develop your top strengths at work. If you don’t have opportunities within your current role, are there opportunities outside of it? And in the meantime, dig deep and think about is this role really the right one for you? Need help identifying your strengths? I love the StrengthsFinder assessment tool by Gallup. Take the online assessment (which is very affordable) and get your top 5 strengths or pay a little more and get the full list of 34 in order.
- Work within your natural style. If you’ve read my past blogs, then you know I’m a BIG advocate for understanding your personality style. Your personality defines how you approach being successful each day. It’s your natural tendencies. I like logic, systems, and research. I like it when things are done RIGHT. So, when I have to continually operate in an environment where there is more than one right answer, no right answer or no attempt to ever get an answer, I go crazy. Participating in these situations drains my energy and doing it for long stretches of time makes me crabby. I don’t want to be crabby. SO, I try not to operate in that world for too long. What about you? Do you find yourself in a position where you are drained every day? Perhaps you are working outside of your style too often and it’s stressing you out. It’s okay, even good for you, to stretch outside of your style occasionally but when you have to do it every day for long periods of time, it will suck the life out of you. Find a role that aligns to your personality. If you are a people person who likes to collaborate and brainstorm with others, is that accounting job REALLY right for you? Need help identifying your style? I like the Take Flight with DISC tool because it uses 4 bird types to identify style making it easy to remember and apply not only to yourself but to your relationships with others. The easy to read report includes strengths, motivations and challenge areas.
- Live your values. At the end of the day, what do you stand for? What matters most to you? Your core values serve as your moral compass as you travel through this great, big world. They direct your decision-making and actions. When things feel off or wrong, it could be because you are ignoring your values or that they are in conflict with what is happening around you. I once worked at an organization that was very toxic, where team members were treated with disrespect on a daily basis. I loved my work and team. I loved my commute and paycheck. I learned something new every day and had the opportunity to really grow my expertise. BUT respect for others is one of my top 5 core values and it outranked the money, the work, and my friends. I left at the top of my career and never looked back. It is important that you know what your values are and you find a company whose values are not in conflict with yours. Need help identifying your values? There are several online tools that can help you identify your values including the VIA Character assessment. I personally like the Values deck by Kouzes and Posner because they are easy and fun to use in groups.
I recently did an activity that helped me see and understand my career journey. I took a blank sheet of paper and charted my career path from when I graduated college to now. At each twist and turn, I reflected on (1) what type of work was I doing (2) who was I working for and with and the overall experience (3) what was going on in my personal life and what mattered most to me. And when I was done and took a step back and really saw it, each turn and twist, I realized that this crazy path of mine made sense – each step forward and even the steps back. There were moves that I made that were well rooted in the above. And there were moves that weren’t and my time there was short. And it was really quite simple. When I was happy and thriving at work, it was because my internal house was in order. All three things – strengths, style and values were in alignment and fully engaged.
Once you have an understanding of your strengths, personality style, and values, you can start to identify what you want to create for yourself and what will make you happy. Knowing WHERE you want to go makes it a lot easier to get there and chart your path forward. Need help figuring out your career path? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Happy New Year! May 2017 be your best year yet!