Thanks to many AP classes in high school, Natalie returned to her second year of college as a junior. So we have had a few discussions about volunteer service, internships, and career planning. Great stuff, I do love talent development!
In our chat, she shared a terrific insight about herself and a path she had been considering. She reflected on and how some of her strengths and her leadership style didn’t seem to line up well with what success looks like in that potential career path. Wow – I was so impressed by the self-awareness and insight! That got us to talking about the many ways that her gifts could be applied and the wide range of career paths that were open … but to think about what issues really mattered to her and try to find pathways to use her strengths in that direction. To try to match skills with meaning and impact. That got me to thinking about how much better we could do at getting ourselves and our kids into careers that line up ability and purpose better.
There’s some debate circulating on whether its best to find and follow their passion or focus on building skills and passion will come later. And after hours of reading, reflecting and writing – I couldn’t get behind either one. Sort of like politics, people seem to be picking sides and pressing their arguments – black or white.
- Passion – grounded in the idea that if you figure out what you love and make that your work, you will be happier and more fulfilled. Question is can you be ‘successful’ and what does that really entail – now and for you specifically?
- Grow Your Skills – iconoclastic idea that without skills you can’t build any successful career, and its a fools errand to focus on your passion before you build some skills.
But the key question underlying both of these ideas is the question of how we define success. Money, prestige, reputation, growth, accomplishment, service ??? The first two have been the norm so many people are burnt out, unengaged and uninspired at work – so maybe that isn’t working so well. I read a provocative statement in an essay this week that said:
If you want ambitious people to do errands work, just make it prestigious.
So how we define success matters, to avoid spending our life on fools errands I think the question isn’t about which side of the argument you pick at all. Its about meaning, and purpose, and adding value.
I would suggest that success comes from knowing we are having an impact, making a difference in the world. And that doesn’t need to be a utopian idea that runs counter to a successful career. But it does require us to think about our potential and our career paths very differently. To find and cultivate roles that can deliver security and meaning. How? Here are a few thoughts … still developing them, so perhaps they seem obvious. But they are not the way we typically chart our course.
(1) SELF AWARENESS: From a young age, be mindful of your gifts and strengths and work hard to cultivate them – through learning, practice, volunteerism etc. (I remember when the kids were younger we would talk about the fruits of the spirit and they would score themselves, then we would score them, and we would discuss.) What can I say, performance discussions are in my blood 🙂 But no matter the format, can we look at ourselves objectively and see our greatest abilities?
(2) GLOBAL AWARENESS: Seek out the problems that are in need of the kind of solutions you can deliver – the issues of the day or of the century that light you up and make you want to make it better. That could be a specific domestic problem, a global issue, an entire industry or something else that isn’t working well in the world.
(3) FIND THE NEXUS: Now … what is at the NEXUS of ability and passion – that array of possibilities for volunteerism, jobs and careers that use your skills toward something that matters to you. It’s not one perfect job in many cases, especially in our ever changing world and economy. There may be a whole array of ways that your abilities can make a meaningful difference. But we have to seek them out.
Maybe the question isn’t what the perfect job is, or what exactly my title should be in 5 years, but what space to I want to work in that feels important and meaningful to me, and (knowing my strengths) what kinds of roles could help deliver solutions. Maybe you need to develop some more skills, perhaps you find or create a volunteer way to work in the space that’s calling you while you prepare for the job you want. But using your skills to deliver meaning and impact matters – whether its your full time career or not.
And while I first put down these ideas in the context of teens and young adults, as I write and reflect they apply to us all. And in this rapidly changing world and economy, the ability to translate your abilities into the kind of solutions that countries, companies and non-profit agencies need is critical. Finding the problems you can help to solve may be the first assignment of the knowledge workers of tomorrow. Would love your thoughts on how we navigate this space – whether for ourselves or for our kids.