What do you want to be when you grow up?
Other typical answers my childhood friends gave were fireman, astronaut, policeman, nurse, teacher, athlete, etc. Yes, even "doctor" was often suggested. And those answers often were a function of what one of our parents did or what was popular at the time or what we admired.
As we mature, the question remains the same but our answers evolve based on our experience and education. Interestingly, it become more difficult to answer this question because we really don't know what we want to do.
As one who daily deals with executives and managers in the context of leadership development and career transitions, I find that there are some important reasons we often find it difficult to answer this question:
* We don't really know our strengths. If we do know our strengths we don't know how they can be used in any other profession than our current one.
* We are guilty of using faulty logic--"You're good with numbers so you should be an engineer"--faulty because it is only partially true and is narrowly focused.
* We have had little if any formal assessment of our strengths and any performance reviews we may have had often turn out to be perfunctory at best--so objective input about where we might apply our strengths is lacking.
* We have received little career guidance over the years about our options--college placement services help us find that first job by setting up interviews, but they normally offer little substantive support about career questions
Often we ask these questions at the start of our career and fail to keep asking the question. For example, I remember working with Jim who was laid off from an insurance company. When asked about why he chose insurance and how his career evolved, he explained that he was just about to graduate with a BA in business administration when a friend said he was going to an interview with an insurance company and invited Jim to come along.
The recruiter was looking for insurance sales people and Jim was attracted to the financial potential and the independence of that role. So he joined the company "for a few years" until he figured out what he really wanted to do. Fast forward 20 years and he's in my office having been laid off by that company and looking for a new job.
He deeply regretted jumping at the first opportunity and now felt trapped in a career path that was not fulfilling. He was very dejected with what he felt were limited options. Limited because 20 years in one industry and one company often communicates one set of strengths pointing to one career path.
So what can you do to avoid feeling trapped in your career? Or if you basically enjoy the field you are in, health care for most readers, but are not feeling fulfilled in your current job, what steps can you take to remedy the situation?
Manage your career
First, you need to decide that you need to manage your career rather than allowing your career to manage you. My 20 years of working with people on career issues supports that fact that many people are being managed by their careers. They follow the obvious sequence of progressive steps "up" in the organization to have jobs with increasing amount of responsibility and to earn more money.
Managing your career means that you will be proactive and intentional about analyzing what you've done in the past and carefully evaluating options in the future. You will take responsibility for your career rather than blame circumstances, bad advice from others or bad luck.
Your proactive approach will begin with thinking, a lot of thinking about goals and action steps. You need to be willing to take risks as you consider options. Most of all, managing your career means you want to make informed decisions, which require asking good questions all along the way and establishing some ideal job preferences against which you can evaluate various options as they come along.
The best evidence I see that indicates that someone is managing his or her career is that they evaluate job options based on some preset parameters they have thought through rather than reacting from "gut instinct."
Too often we are thinking of asking "What do you want in a good candidate for this position?" rather than "Here's what I bring to the table and what motivates me. Let's discuss how my strengths and motivation can fit in addressing the challenges in your organization."
Once you've decided to take charge of your career you need to take inventory of what you have to offer. Ask yourself some important questions:
* Passion: What am I most passionate about? What is it about my work that energizes me and makes me want to get up and go to work each day?
* Strengths: What are my strengths--those things I do well and love doing--and where (what context) do I most enjoy using them?
* Job Satisfaction: What is it about each of my previous jobs that has been most satisfying? Least satisfying? By studying each job and analyzing patterns about job satisfaction can you identify common threads and draw important conclusions about where you fit the best?
* Feedback: What feedback have I received (e.g., from formal assessments, performance reviews, moment") about my performance and strengths?
* Evidence: Look for accomplishments to support your career direction. What accomplishments demonstrate that you really do have the strengths stated in your resume and that you probably will achieve similar results in your next job if properly aligned?
* Goals: What goals can you set for the direction you want your career to take? Are they realistic? Those goals will be a function of the above inventory and need to be realistic in terms of time frame and potential given your background. Often it is better to be descriptive (i.e., senior leader in a community hospital) than prescriptive (i.e., chief administrative officer) because it gives you more options without forcing the potential employer to tell you "we don't need a CAO" or other job title you may suggest.
So how to get started? After you've consciously decided to take charge of your career and taken inventory, start engaging others in the process to help you. Talk with friends and colleagues to solicit their feedback so they can serve as sounding boards on this important and exciting journey.
No one can truly know themselves without feedback, so do all you can to get unfiltered feedback when you can. Blind spots or misunderstandings of your true abilities can inhibit good decision making, so you want as clear a picture as possible of reality.
Get in tune with what you are passionate about professionally and take not of your key accomplishments and what you are learning about yourself from them. It's surprising how quickly we forget past accomplishments as we get moving toward a career move.
Be sure to keep your spouse or significant other in the loop as you consider options. After reading an e-mail exchange with me about his view of career options, one senior manager's wife asked him, "Are you seriously entertaining this idea knowing the impact it might have on our family? I thought we agreed to talk about these kinds of things before you made any major move."
Principal at T2 Management Consultants in Atlanta, Ga.