"I don’t know where I’m going but I promise it won’t be boring" – David Bowie
How many of us do know where we’re going this year? How many of us have even thought about it? And perhaps most important – can we, like the late lamented Bowie, promise ourselves it won’t be boring?
The start of a new year is a good time to take stock. Do you feel ‘stuck’ or do you feel ‘progress’? And to what extent do you feel in control of your career direction and development?
I work with many managers at many different career stages who feel that they have simply existed through their careers, following the traditional trajectory, often wishing they had done something else but feeling the increasing ‘life pressure’ to keep on moving up. They often end up well skilled, well paid, and utterly exhausted.
Careers needn’t be so linear – and indeed today's younger generations now change jobs more regularly than ever before. They can also be more enjoyable. Psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski’s research has shown that people generally see their roles as either jobs (a means to and end), careers (a positive step for advancement) or callings (fulfilling their personal and social values and strengths).
Importantly, no matter what occupation she looked at, the split between these camps was even; about a third feeling that they were in each category. Now of course we aren’t all blessed with immediate opportunities to follow our ‘callings’; but an awareness of what those callings might look like, the things that really do matter to us, should allow us to spot those opportunities more quickly when they do come along.
One helpful thing to do is discover what your psychological strengths are (which I have written about briefly before). The most crucial advantage of this approach over other ‘personality profiling’ tools is that our psychological strengths are not only the things that we are good at, but also the things we gain energy from doing. There are plenty of online tools to help you with this, from the the original VIA strengths survey and the organic and beautiful At My Best cards (both free to use) to more granular ones which cost a small fee such as the "R2", "Strengthscope" or "Clifton Strengthsfinder".
To whet your appetite here are a few sample questions for you to try:
What has been your favourite part of your role in recent weeks? However small an aspect or activity; choose something that you felt energized by, that you enjoyed, and that you felt proud of. Then drill down further, what was it about that activity that you found most satisfying?
Where else have you experienced satisfaction from doing the same thing? Look right back into childhood as well as in recent times, in and out of work. If there are lots of examples, chances are you’ve hit upon one of your key strengths.
What opportunities are there to increase the use of this strength in your day to day role? Be creative with this and talk to your manager. They need only be small – if you have a strength in elements of communication could you get involved in more presentations, or be the spokesperson for your team across the business? If you have a strength in elements of problem solving, could you get involved in a process-change group, or tackle a way that your team currently works as a side project?
Research shows that those who start to use their strengths more report higher energy, self-esteem, positive emotion and lower stress. And it’s not just good for us as individuals; knowledge of strengths helps teams to bond, and managers to motivate. So, what are you waiting for? Make 2016 your strongest - and least boring - year yet.
Jen Rolfe is Founder and Director of learning consultancy Practically Positive.