Introduction: View Your Career as an On-Going Journey
Last week we had the privilege of joining a TechGen session for many of Boston’s adventurous interns. As usual, the interns asked fantastic questions ranging from developing an idea (see Building a Compelling Value Proposition) and who to validate it with (see Defining Your Minimum Viable Segment) to how to find a great job.
Since I often hear how burdensome this can be, particularly for those just starting out in their career, it seemed appropriate to share our simple framework to fuel you no matter your destination. Anyone can use it to find alignment between passion and work, develop things like transferable skills, yet avoid traps like chasing money or confusing hobbies and work.
The key thing about this framework is that it’s really an iteration as you journey through life. And thinking about it that way is the first step to relieving the stress of having to make a perfect first career decision. Instead think about a few steps you can take to get rolling as follows:-
- Ideation (brainstorm all the ideas around things you love doing)
- Exploration (explore & research all the possible kinds of areas, industries and positions that might include that kind of work)
- Identification (identify all the kinds of skills and knowledge that might be involved in that work)
- Self Discovery (be open to trying as many things that arise from the above so you can creatively consider all the possibilities to find where you ‘flow‘ )
- Network Building (to find those opportunities and to find like minded people and compatible cultures)
- Learning Transferable Skills (focus on learning skills that are useful across contexts)
Each one of these steps requires action. It’s the non-negotiable ingredient. You’ve got to be prepared to put yourself out there exploring, and networking, to find possibilities and to try new things to keep learning and advancing your understanding of your potential. Your dream job won’t come to you, but you CAN find it — and it might surprise you when you do! For example, it might be in a completely different industry or vocation than you thought because you discover that it’s really about working with great people in a culture that brings out the best in you. You have to start somewhere, so get going! There is no failure, only learning, so don’t be afraid to get out there.
Grow or Die
Remember that this is an evolving process. Don’t expect to get it entirely right on the first, second, or even third time. Across your career you will run through many revolutions of this cycle. Fortunately, throughout this experience you will be expanding your network of opportunities, learning about yourself to better filter those opportunities to fit you, and, if you think about it in advance, developing some transferable skills.
Identifying Transferable Skills
Here are just a few of the skills we discussed in our workshop:
- Interpersonal skills
- Management (distinct from leadership – enabling others)
- Sales (for example learning to sell yourself and your ideas is a transferable skill)
There are many, MANY others! And you might want to include personal skills and disciplines like writing, public speaking and time management. What would you add?
We discussed my favorite of these: interpersonal skills. Almost all jobs involve other people and so the ability to relate to people and develop an appreciation for other people’s backgrounds, perspectives, motivations and how to work with them and enable them is an invaluable skill. Sadly, unless you’re lucky enough to take Psychology or related classes, you probably won’t have been schooled in it. Yet it’s easy to study. Just pay attention to the people around you, take their viewpoint, listen, and learn. And don’t stop there. Network like there’s no tomorrow. AnchorGet to know as many people as you feel you can to learn from, and select mentors from and share with. And be a peer mentor yourself. Your interpersonal skills, relationships, and network will always stand you in good stead, no matter where life takes you.
Some final tips. It’s not all work, but it is all your life.
You’ll often hear people – me included – saying: “pursue your passion”. Yes. Those of us who are lucky enough to find an integrated life where we can pursue our passion at work are less challenged to find the so-called work/life balance. Allow yourself the room to explore some of your passions as a hobby, too. Trying to turn hobbies into work can kill their pleasure and diminish or burn out the joy of having a change from work. (I nearly killed my hobby of photography by thinking about how to become a pro when clearly I wasn’t up for it. Instead, I learned to just enjoy it for the pleasure it brings me personally and to share with friends.)
One way to think about bringing your passions and skills into alignment is to find your personal “sweet spot” where you would enjoy developing and leveraging these skills and passions to create value (financial and non-financial). I believe you can think of a career this way as well by learning:
- what you’re good at (or where you want to develop),
- what your passions are, and
- how they can be leveraged to create value.
It’s a worthwhile exercise to map out these buckets and think about where there may be an intersection. An acid test for this is that it won’t be just where you end up spending time, but getting to the place where you literally lose track of time, in flow, in your “sweet spot”.
In addition, know that not all things you do in life need to be wrapped up in other people’s definition of a paid career. Parenting, for example, is one of the most noble professions in the world. It creates the most important legacy we leave – our children.
The trap to avoid.
Pursuing something just because you feel it will make money is a trap in my experience. Yes you may be able to build skills in it and even make money from it, but if you’re not passionate about it, you’re likely to feel trapped by whatever income you become used to instead of free to pursue your passions. In my experience people who love their work tend to take pride in it, develop skills in it naturally, become good at it, and enjoy the rewards both personal and financial that accrue from it. NOT the other way around. The exact way in which this evolves may be different for you. Allow yourself time to explore your passion and potential skills to really unlock your true value.
And my final tip. This is all about YOU. Don’t lead someone else’s life.
I’m often asked questions like “what made you successful?”, or “what can I learn from your success?”. First of all, I find these questions hard to contemplate as I don’t think of myself as successful; just joyful for the opportunities I’ve had. But, for what it’s worth, my personal answer was to create my own job, become an entrepreneur. And of course that’s what I’ve done over and over again and am doing once again right now. (If you’re so inclined here’s a post on where you might start as a budding entrepreneur.) But I’m biased, and it’s clearly not for everyone. In fact, I actually think these are the WRONG questions!
It’s not about how I pursued my life. There’s little to learn from my personal path except the principle of finding your own path. Even if you’re not destined to start your own business, you can be an “entrepreneur of life” and take charge of owning and living your own life.
So where do you start? Get out and enjoy the process of engaging with the amazing world around you. You are uniquely qualified for something (see this post). We need fresh open minds with great attitude and aptitude to show us the future! Welcome! And, as always, I’d love to hear about your experiences with finding your sweet spot so please share below.
With thanks to Sarah Sherburne @sarahsherby from TechGen @TheTechGen, TheTechGeneration.com, NEVCA @newenglandvc, Acquia @Acquia and Richard Dulude for their help with the event and this article.