I start out one of my presentations with an attempt at ESP. I try and predict the audience's mindset and what they are thinking about their career futures. I start out with what they DON'T want, because people tend to define where they are going by avoiding the least desirable paths. Anyway, here's what I say: "So you want to do something you believe in, feel good about what you do and how it benefits humankind. You do not want to be confined to a "conveyor belt" of meaningless and repetitive tasks, and you want to work with people, because you are a people person. And you don't want to be in sales! You want an organizational culture that values your unique talents and will help you grow." Usually, this is followed by, "How did you know?!!!" This always applies to new graduates, young alums, but today this is the view of many career changers who are looking for the next thing. Lily Tomlin said, "I always wanted to be somebody but I realized I should have been more specific." What I try and coach people to do is to zoom in on what they want– to be more specific!
Besides the crucial error of driving your career defensively versus asserting and pursuing what you want. Let's break this mindset down:
I want to do something I believe in — In the lexicon of the 90's Duh! Yes make missions or causes an essential part of your life! But what do you specifically believe in? What are your values and principles that you will use as search filters for your next career? It would be lovely if you could satisfy all of them in a job. You need to find a job, an employer, an industry that fits your needs, including what its products and services do for the world. It does not mean that your day job will fulfill all of your passions. Never stop pursuing your passions outside of your employment, that will help keep your rocket ship in orbit. Your constellation of passions is complex and finding a sole source provider is illogical. In the end you have to believe in the opportunity for you to grow your talents and your prospects in this new career. So your employment has to be focused on real skill developmetn and experience acquisition. In this case you are obsessive about developing yourself and your prospective employer supports your quest. Now that is doing something to believe in.
I want to avoid a job with repetitive and meaningless tasks – Unless it pays $100 an hour! 🙂 I get to visit and talk to people in every sector. The new world order has redefined everything, no job is confined to a series of predictable tasks any more. Everybody is doing more with less. Sure every job has administrivia, grunty work, the chores of the job, but the work of a receptionist, financial analyst, assistant, project manager etc have been expanded and are changing. So expectations and opportunities increase in worlds that need more done. And all jobs matter more. What you really want to avoid is an environment that regards your work as meaningless. But if you agree with #1 above, then you find a place where you can grow. Nothing wrong with a bit of repetition, it will give you a great chance to hone your skills and develop confidence.
I want to work with people — This one always kills me. What is the alternative here: zoo-keeper! Yeah you are going to work with people while we are on earth. Do you mean you want to work with people "outside of the office"? Customers? Vendors? What type of people? How? And by the way, are you good at working with people, building relationships, engaging teams?? The real question is how good are you with people? Can you lead, inspire, counsel, serve people? We know what you want but can you deliver value to your employer and ultimately to the customer?
I want an organizational culture that values my unique talents and will help me grow — See #1 again! By the way, what are your specific unique talents and strengths? Hard to appreciate them if you do not know what they are. And if you know those talents, then find an environment that will use them. Do you know where you are generally or specifically going with your career? Do you know what skills you want sharpened or developed? If you do, then growth can be measured. If you don't then this notion of "growth" will frustrate you and your employer because it is a mysterious and illusive set of feelings and ideas that no one knows. The very popular and ugly dance of under-utilized employer provided growth opportunities and employee dissatisfaction with their growth is commonplace. Successful people do not rail against or depend on the system, they figure out how to make the most of the opportunities that are there and make new ones. One of the most popular but mis-placed expectations is that the employer has an obligation to develop my career and mentor me. Employers can coach, lead, support, but mentoring and career planning are always the employee's job.
Maybe this raises more questions and some answers for you. The hope is to get you more focused on what you really want, in Tomlinesque specificity. Then you can start talking about it to get feedback. You can network with it. You can seek mentoring and guidance. Your plans will gel and your focus on what you want will get sharper. However if you continue to use generic phrases to describe what you want, then your search for the next great thing will be lost in a sea of non-specific candidates.The idea that you do not want to eliminate possibilities by being too specific is a certain sentence to the penitentiary of the average. Or your search for meaning and meaningfulness can be driven by the unique interests and talents that make you specifically who you are and separate you from the predictable masses.
Thanks for reading. John
3 thoughts on “Career ESP—Extra Specific Please”
Thanks John, I am more focused on the retirement aspect and trying to use ESP to see my future. Can you help?
Although looking at what to avoid is like looking at the lake in front of you while teeing off on the 14th hole. Better just to look where you want to land the ball and the lake does not exist.
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
Thanks Lucy for visiting and for your nice note. Best wishes John