Are you thinking through you career direction?
Posted on July 14, 2010 by Michael Felberbaum, One of Thousands of Life Coaches on Noomii.
It's difficult to know if all your career thinking is moving you forward. How about a few tips to avoid going around in circles?
How do we measure progress when thinking through something as amorphous as our career direction? How do we know we’re getting somewhere in our thought process?
It’s difficult to know if our thought is progressing in general, especially on personal matters. It reminds me of an essay I read recently by Pico Iyer who talks about observing the meditation practice of Buddhist Monks, specifically the Dalai Lama. He describes the silence in the room, where 100% of what is going on is invisible — there are no speech balloons, no narrators, there is nothing to describe what each individual is experiencing in his own private space. How do we know that there is anything going on at all?
Likewise, when we get some time and space to contemplate our careers and our businesses, I think there is an inner, reflective quality that’s necessary to experience. When we feel called to take long walks, go to workshops and seminars, or simply sit in a cafe and stare out the window – I think we’re allowing ourselves more freedom to think. However, as a client of mine asked – are we getting anywhere with that thinking? Are we just going around in circles? It’s difficult to know because the progress we’re making by simply spending time with our thoughts is invisible to everyone else.
Having said that, however, I think there are ways to determine whether we’re getting somewhere in thinking through our career direction. I’ve outlined a few ideas below — which are based on questions I often ask my clients as we proceed through our coaching process. In my experience, there is a very real, very palpable and observable physical sense of direction – not so different than how we feel when we’re in a familiar hometown and we know where everything is. This sense — as it relates to our professional lives — does correspond with gaining more insight into what really matters to us. It’s a corollary to feeling focused.
1) I sometimes like to ask my clients: what would it look like for you to be acting “on purpose?” I borrowed this question from David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” (GTD) in which he describes why it’s so important to be purposeful in our actions. Do we know why we do what we do? Why do we go to the office? Why do we do our job? Where is our business headed? To the extent that our job, or our career, or our business seems like it’s “on purpose” and “on track” — and that’s something palpable and observable — then there are much fewer existential questions about why we’re here, what we’re doing with our lives, and what we contribute to society. If we experience the existential questions fading away, then it usually feels like a big weight is lifted and we feel unencumbered. We may continue to ask the same questions, but in a much less urgent and distracting way. Others may witness us lightening up a bit and feeling much more relaxed.
2) Part of the big existential questions fading away is whether we’re taking full responsibility for answering them. So another metric I use is how often and how seriously engaged we are with mentors, advisors or good friends. Do we get together with our trusted advisors once a quarter, once a year? Are we willing and able to have a forthright discussion in which we lay out our big questions? If we can sit down with someone we trust and say: “You know, I’d really like to gain some clarity on my life, I’ve been thinking about what I’m doing for a while, and I really don’t know where I’m headed in my career – can you help me to think through my direction?” Asking for help in this manner can be hugely illuminating when we’re with people who have our best interests at heart — but it’s not the same as what we often do when we talk about our career indecision and bounce ideas off of friends, all the while finding ways to complain and avoid taking new action. Opening up big questions only seems to work when we’re willing to take responsibility for our questions and get at the heart of the matter.
3) I remember not that long ago venting my confusion and frustration to a coach I respect a great deal. I said that I just keep banging my head against the wall on this particular issue and I’m getting nowhere. I’m so fed up! After a thoughtful pose, he asked me: are you asking better questions? That really struck me and stopped my whole escapade. In my opinion, it’s another sign of progress when we can see that our questions themselves are advancing. It gives us a bit of comfort to relax into the questions and the creative process we’re going through. We know logically that if we keep asking the same questions, we’re likely to arrive at the same answers. So, I like to encourage my clients to apply their intelligence on the side of the questions rather than the side of the answers — and to use their insight and creativity in uncovering really good questions, questions they really want answers to. Simply expressing a deeply felt question is enormously freeing in my experience, and there is a palpable sense of progress when we manage to articulate our questions wholeheartedly. Somehow, it clears the air.
I’ve outlined just a few ways to determine progress in our thought process. I hope it’s helpful. I’ve intentionally shied away from external actions — whether we’re applying for new jobs, trying new marketing techniques, etc. There is typically a lot of emphasis on taking action – and action is certainly related to thought – but sometimes it’s also nice to remember that all of our contemplation and thinking is valuable in itself.
Although we can’t see it, I suspect the monks in Pico Iyer’s essay are thinking in one form or another. Even though they sit there in the lotus position, I suspect that just like us, they are witnessing their concerns and their struggles. However, they are giving themselves plenty of room to allow their thoughts to take their own course while they just sit and watch. In my experience, this may be one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves when we’re wrestling with questions of direction and meaning in our lives.