As children, we’re often asked what we want to be when we grow up. Typically, the answers are pie-in-the-sky responses: astronaut, popstar, NFL player. At a young age, we have no understanding of the journey necessary to make those goals come to life, so we shout out roles that seem exciting.
As we enter adolescence and adulthood, though, we begin to dissect and flesh out those initial plans. Consequently, becoming an astronaut could evolve into an engineering career with the military. A dream to be the next Lady Gaga might manifest into working in professional theater. And the pursuit of playing football? Sports writing, commentary, and broadcasting might be a more appropriate fit.
It’s natural for a career journey to involve ups, downs, and recalculations such as these. But what if your current job seems like a dead end, not a route to a desirable destination? Unless you’re 100 percent satisfied with your career and future path, you owe it to yourself to conduct an inward-looking assessment. That way, you can start to build a tomorrow suitably matched to your unique talents.
A Path to Better Opportunities
Let’s try an exercise in developing a stronger sense of self-awareness. Grab a piece of paper. Jot down all the things you naturally excel at. Are you a terrific public speaker, an organizational guru, or a compassionate listener? Then, write down your weak spots. For instance, perhaps you struggle to be flexible. When you are finished, focus on all the strong points you wrote down. Ask yourself if you use them every day at your workplace. Chances are, you don’t.
Many people move through their working lives without fully tapping into their core strengths. As a result, they wind up feeling unsatisfied. It only makes sense: If you lean on your natural talents just 20 percent of the time, 80 percent of your tasks fall into your weaker categories. Ideally, you want to reverse those percentages to maximize your gifts — and your job happiness. To become more engaged in your professional life, follow these three exercises in self-evaluation:
1. Outline your vision of success. To some, an enviable salary is the end-all and be-all, while others believe being able to change the world, even in small ways, is the ultimate marker of success. It’s up to you to construct your definition.
This challenge requires you to dream big. Envision yourself months or even years down the road, more fulfilled than ever. What’s changed? Are you working remotely? Traveling for business? Teaching in an urban setting? There’s no right or wrong response. Just align it with your key attributes so it has the best chance of coming true.
Now, hack your way toward your version of success. Start a side hustle. Take a workshop. Get a mentor. Take those baby steps, and if you veer in the wrong direction, you can always get back on track.
2. Reflect often before taking action. Once you get yourself into an action-focused mindset, you may be tempted to make big decisions: Resist the desire to do everything at once. Walker Deibel, acquisition entrepreneur and author of “Buy Then Build,” works with people eager to purchase companies so they can put their own spin on the operations — but he recommends prudence.
As he counsels, you should never take the choice to invest in a totally new career lightly. “For the purpose of true self-discovery, ignore your passions and interests for a moment,” says Deibel. “Simply focus on the activities and functions you are well-equipped to execute. This is about getting in tune with what you’re good at and doing a deep dive into your skill set.” His advice pertains to any significant moves you make. Analyze, then act. You’ll feel more powerful and confident as a result.
3. Work better with and for others. You likely work with a number of people who could be the key to better work and more awareness. In one study published in Harvard Business Review, researchers discovered that the best-performing teams were composed of highly self-aware individuals.
To kick off the notion of personal awareness in a group setting, ask your team to take self-assessments such as Gallup’s CliftonStrengths. Then, when a project arises, raise your hand if it suits your strengths. Ignore titles and seniority. Lean in to tasks that feel unfamiliar but affirm your capabilities. For instance, did you rank highly for conflict management? Offer to mediate a discussion on your team or to shadow an HR rep. If you start to apply your strengths, you’ll gain the skills you need to propel yourself in new, beneficial directions.
Plenty of working adults complain of feeling “off track,” and no one enjoys every second of every workday. But if you feel like your career is completely derailed, you can and should get yourself back on track by examining yourself and following these three steps.
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