Coach’s Challenge for 4/29/12 “Utilizing your strengths”

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge comes from the author and blogger, Penelope Trunk. Her book “Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success” is a must read for anyone trying to figure out what career to follow or how to be more successful in a current job. The book includes 45 tips that are brazenly unconventional, bold and radical.

Because I’m an avid fan of Joseph Campbell and his advice to “follow your bliss,” this blog entry from Trunk definitely caught my eye. Have a look:
The Worst Career Advice: Do What You Love
By Penelope Trunk

“One of the worst pieces of career advice that I bet each of you has not only received but given is to ‘do what you love.’

Forget that. It’s absurd. I have been writing since before I even knew how to write — when I was a preschooler I dictated my writing to my dad. And you might not be in preschool, but if you are in touch with who you are, that sort of behavior continues: You do what you love no matter what, because you love it, not because you get paid to do it.

So you will say, ‘But look. Now you are getting paid to do what you love. You are so lucky.’ But it’s not true. I mean, there are things I enjoy more, and I discover new things I love all the time. We are each multifaceted, multilayered and complicated, and if you are reading this blog, you probably devote a large part of your life to learning about yourself. And self-discovery is a process; none us loves just one thing.

Career decisions are not decisions about what do I love most. Career decisions are about what kind of life do I want to set up for myself. After all, how could you possibly pick one thing you love to do?

The world reveals to you all that you love by what you spend time on. Try stuff. If you like it, you’ll go back to it. I recently tried Pilates. I didn’t want to try, but a friend said she loved the teacher, so I went. I loved it. I have taken it three times a week ever since, and it’s changed me.

Often, the thing we should do for our career is something we would only do if we were getting a reward. If you tell yourself that your job has to be something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid, you’ll be looking for a long time. Maybe forever. So why set that standard? The reward for doing a job is contributing to something larger than you are, participating in society and being valued in the form of money.

The pressure we feel to find a perfect career is insane. And given that people are trying to find it before they are 30 in order to avoid both a quarter-life crisis and a biological-clock crisis, the pressure is enough to push people over the edge. Which is why one of the highest risk times for depression in life is in one’s early 20s when people realize how totally impossible it is to simply ‘do what you love.’

Here’s some practical advice: Do not what you love; do what you are. It’s how I chose my career. I bought the book with that title — maybe my favorite career book of all time — and I took the quickie version of the Myers-Briggs test. The book gave me a list of my strengths and a list of jobs where I would likely succeed based on those strengths.

Relationships make your life great, not jobs. But a job can ruin your life — make you feel out of control in terms of your time or your ability to accomplish goals — but no job will make your life complete. It’s a myth mostly propagated by people who tell you to do what you love. Doing what you love will make you feel fulfilled. But you don’t need to get paid for it.

A job can save your life, though. If you are lost and lonely and wondering how you’ll ever find your way in this world, take a job. Any job. Because structure and regular contact with regular people and a method of contributing to a larger group are all things that help us recalibrate ourselves.

So if you are overwhelmed with the task of ‘doing what you love,’ you should recognize that you are totally normal, and maybe you should just forget it. Just do something that caters to your strengths. Do anything.

And if you are so overwhelmed that you feel depression coming on, consider that a job might save you. Take one. Doing work and being valued in the community is important. For better or worse, we value people with money. Earn some. Doing work you love is not so important. We value love in relationships. Make some.”

Trunk offers much to think about in this blog post. None of us have the luxury of only doing work that compliments our strengths. But if you’re lucky enough to be part of a team, the work can be divided in such a way as to play to each team members’ strengths. A smart manager quickly tunes into everyone’s strengths and aligns responsibilities accordingly. This makes for a much happier group of people who support rather than detract from one another. It’s often in the relationships we form at work that we receive our greatest gifts and challenges.

If we follow Trunk’s advice and don’t expect our job to make our life complete, then we accept what a job can actually do for us. A job can provide part of what we need in life to succeed — by our own definition, not anyone else’s. Many other aspects of our life can provide the deeper satisfaction and joy we seek. If we expect our jobs to give us everything, we will probably get disappointed.

From another angle, there’s something to be said for knowing when to get things done and how to allocate our time so that we’re spending more time doing what we’re good at rather than struggling with things we’re not as good at. Years ago, my grandmother told me that she liked to get her household chores done early in the day so that later on she could bake. My grandmother definitely had strengths in baking — her chocolate donuts and apple pies were amazing! I know that my grandmother didn’t enjoy cleaning up after four children and a husband each day, but she did love to bake. She was smart to concentrate the best part of her day on her favorite activity. This seemed like a great use of her strengths to me, and it was a good lesson in doing the stuff we really don’t like first to get them out of the way so we can concentrate on what we do enjoy.

Your challenge this week is to consider your strengths and try aligning your job responsibilities with your strengths. If you’re not aware of what your top strengths are, take a strengths assessment to find out. There are lots of books on the topic: “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham, “StrengthsFinder 2.0” by Tom Rath, “Strengths-Based Leadership” by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. All of these books help you discover your strengths and learn to use them in your job. They also all have instructions for how you can go online to discover your strengths.

Dr. Donald O. Clifton, cited by the American Psychological Association as the father (and now the grandfather) of strengths psychology, wrote, “A strength is something you like to do, are good at and learn quickly.”

Sounds good to me!

Have a good week,

Kathleen

* The coach will be on vacation next weekend. The next challenge will be published 5/13/12.

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