How To Know What You Love So You Can Go Out and Do It In The World

 

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The 5 Ws photo by KNILT, Albany NY

“Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.” Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator

Think about this for a minute.  Let it really sink in.  If you start from the premise that your life’s work should be about doing jobs that please others?  Where does that leave you?  You will be crafting a whole life based on a false you, and that will create all kinds of problems in your life.

So, start early.  Have conversations.  Use the classic 5 Ws that are taught in basic journalism and investigation/research classes. I have adapted them here for the young job seeker.

  • Who?  Do you want to work with (ok that should be Whom?!) (people your age? people smarter than you are? in a big group? by yourself?)
  • What? Do you want to be doing most of the day. (talk to people, manage others, sell, make spreadsheets, proofread, handle lots of details, work with money or animals or children or the elderly?)
  • Where? Do you want to be when you are doing this work (inside? outside? in a team? solitary? in a city? in the wilderness?)
  • When? Do you want a regular schedule, do you want to travel which might involve nights and weekends, do you prefer evenings or mornings? And then the big one…
  • Why? What makes you think these things are true about yourself (get really honest about this to yourself)?  What are supporting data? Have you really looked at how you act now and how you think you will want to act in the future?  Have you ever been able to change a behavior you don’t like? Or, are there things that are just part of what makes you “you,” and you will need to accommodate those traits in order to succeed in your career (NOTE: this is a key factor in being successful, workarounds are crucial as we cannot be good at everything)?

Going back to Paul Graham’s quote above, what is driving you to say all these things? Is it really your opinion, or are you trying to appease or please friends, family, professors, coaches, or society-at-large?  And if you are, then please re-do your 5 Ws until they truly reflect you, without the influence of wanting to please others.

It is not to say that you can not make a lifetime of work into a success by massaging what is truly your preferred path so that your career pays well.  Maybe you know you really want to live in an affluent community and will need a certain income.  But, you would be surprised how finding satisfying work will often take you to communities where you are very happy — often you are then surrounded by like-minded people.  You can then augment your desire for life’s nice things outside of your job, rather than design a whole career just to get those nice things.  Most of us spend more time at work than doing any other activity.  Remember that when you decide on a job solely to provide you with a certain upscale lifestyle.  You may not have time to enjoy the lifestyle you can now afford.

Bottom-line, your career needs to contain kernels of the real you, based on your answers to the 5 Ws.   Knowing this early will save you a great deal of frustration, altercations with peers and bosses, failure in the work place and in your life, and the heartache and huge waste of time that all these issues brings a person.

If you truly have no idea where to start, then talk with close adult family friends, teachers, and family.  Ask them about your best traits.  Then ask them what kind of careers would utilize those traits.  This is the beginning of networking and an essential step as you hone your path and seek jobs that let you flourish.  Certainly you could read any one of hundreds of career books like, What Color Is Your Parachute?, the classic by Richard Nelson Bolles. But you don’t have to.  Merely working through the 5 Ws and separating out what is a good match for you vs. what you think will look prestigious will get you very far, in a much shorter time.

 

 

Your Aptitudes Define You at Your Best – Build An Ongoing Personal Success Story To Guide College and Work Choices

As an art history major myself, I have absolutely no problem with students who choose to pursue a liberal arts education.  Thinking, writing, quality assessment and detailed discernment, analyzing for meaning on multiple levels, proffering original ideas, dialoguing in class, managing complicated research projects, meeting deadlines, gaining feedback from a professor and classmates – these skills are all transferable to the work world.  I always maintained that the same internal drivers that made me able to the discern between a group of  20-30 Madonna paintings and then write a paper also helped me to discern the relevant characteristics of my candidates for a client’s senior level actuary or CFO job, sort the executives by the most relevant achievements and then write succinct summaries that helped my client hire the best executive for their job and work environment.

If I were to go back to my youngest memories, the Montessori primary school I attended provided the very happiest environment, with classrooms organized around ordering, sorting and categorizing.  You can start to see how at the beginning of my career, even with no actual work experience, I was able to think back on what I knew about myself, recognize the highlights and pick a career direction.  I also trained myself to link my peak experiences using a story thread that allowed me to sell myself to companies and organizations even if my experiences weren’t exactly what that company would be hiring me to do in my future job. The ability to draw relevant analogies and paint a vivid picture of one’s abilities is a deciding factor in who gets hired and who doesn’t.  It is worth practicing from a young age.

You can help your child continue to hone this self-awareness too – just begin to pay attention to their work styles in school, and activities, and during chores at home.  Enter into many brief low key discussions over the course of late elementary into high school where you help them see patterns that will benefit them as they pick a major or a first job out of college.  And if you are reading this and you have already moved out of your parents’ home, go back and have a discussion with your family, siblings, family friends, and particularly trusted teachers and adults who coached or mentored you.  What did they notice about your periods of happiness and excitement?  Start to think about a thread that ties all your best experiences together and begin to practice telling this story – it is the basis for self-knowledge and ultimately will drive your career satisfaction and happiness.

Photo 1: Madonna del Prato (Madonna of the Meadow) by Raphael, painted in 1506 now hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. This Madonna, with Jesus and St. John the Baptist is renowned for the exquisite contrasting blue and red colors of her dress, the locked gaze of the two cousins that holds the bottom of the configuration, and for the triangular construction of the figures that mirrors the mountains in the highly evocative background.

Photo 2: A Young professional woman walking briskly to a meeting by Mike Wilson on Unsplash. A quick read of this young adult candidate as she comes into my office: what is the appropriateness level of her interview outfit, does she show a the spring in her step, does she wear a watch on her wrist so won’t have to tell time by looking at her phone during our meeting, does she carry a portfolio or folder with extra resumes and writing samples as well as a writing pad where she will take notes.  The act of noticing these aspects of a candidate in the first minute of our meeting is an act of discernment. Later I review the relevance of these details in the same manner that I used in my analyses of multiple similar Renaissance paintings.

Childhood Roots to Adult Job Satisfaction

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Photo by Jase Daniels on Unsplash

 

Helping another adult craft a resume can be a tedious exercise of adjective selection and careful proofreading.  Making a resume with a teen can be far more exciting.  Teens run the 400.  They twirl en pointe and slalom race and scoop ice cream and care for pet raccoons at the local nature center.  Getting them to tell you about their achievements and dreams gives you a unique window into their world – theirs is a world of novelty, challenge, excitement and heartbreak.  Hear their stories. Tease out their passions.  Let them tell you everything that their hobbies mean to them.  How is it that those activities given them pleasure?  Get them to use lots of adjectives and validate their feelings by reacting with enthusiasm, even if right now they love video games and junk food and speak of these things with great delight.

Then ask about their work life – paid work, volunteering or chores around the house. Listen carefully for how the demands of the work dovetail with their preferences:

  • Is it physical energy that drives them like the skills that are used in waitressing and babysitting for younger kids?
  • Is it sustained repetitive tasks like stuffing envelopes for a political campaign or programming?
  • Are they customer service oriented, selling shoes or cookies door to door?
  • Do they patiently talk to an older neighbor or always greet people as they walk down the street?
  • Maybe they like to be paid for exercise and hard labor – do they like shoveling, dog walking or mowing the lawn?
  • Can they get themselves up early for that lifeguarding job or are they better bussing tables till midnight?

Ferreting out these truths can become the beginnings of them seeing and understanding basic patterns and rhythms that will drive their adult satisfaction in a lifetime of jobs.