We all know when we encounter someone who loves what they do. It’s obvious. There’s a contentment about them, a vibrancy. And if we’re unhappy in our work the contrast between us and them can feel painful.
When I ask people about their work, they usually pin me to the wall, either because they’re keen to tell me how marvellous their job is and how much they love it, or to talk about how much they wish they could do something different. The latter group is far larger than the former. It’s a sad reality that so many people are unhappy in their careers and feel stuck.
There is a fundamental problem with how people usually go about choosing the right career for them. It doesn’t matter whether we’re young and just starting out or whether we’re a bit older and want to change careers. In both cases people struggle. But it doesn’t have to be that way. They key to good career choices is a particular kind of self insight. The insight is this – a real understanding of your strengths – what you are innately good at, love doing, are motivated by and energises you – gives you the knowledge you need to make the right choices.
We know from neurobiology that we are who we are by the time we’re in our mid teens. After that we don’t change all that much. If you’re a person who loves to be in charge that will have shown itself at a fairly young age. If you’re not and are promoted to become a manager, no amount of coaching or training can make you into someone who loves to be in charge. You can learn the skills of being a manager but you will never really enjoy it or be excellent at it. Think of it this way – the knowledge and skills are tickets to the game, but it’s your natural strengths that will make you thrive.
So before you start Googling all sorts of jobs in a quest to find what’s right for you, invest a bit of time understanding your strengths. You can ask yourself questions like ‘What do I love doing?’, ‘What gives me a buzz?’, ‘What do I relish doing when I get to work?’, and, conversely, ‘What stays at the bottom of my to-do list?’, ‘What makes my heart sink’?, ‘What would I avoid doing if I could?’
Being really clear about your strengths is being really clear about who you are and what will make you successful and thrive.
As Peter Drucker, the famous management writer and consultant said way back in the 1950s
“To succeed in this new world, we will have to learn, first, who we are. Few people, even highly successful people, can answer the questions, Do you know what you’re good at? Do you know what you need to learn so that you get the full benefit of your strengths? Few have even asked themselves these questions.”