In this first post of the Figure YOU Out February series, we’re going to get you on the path to career discovery though self-exploration by getting you in the habit of actually paying attention to yourself on a daily basis. It’s easier than it sounds, and there is a workbook that will help you get the process started! But first, a story…
The other day, I found myself sucked into My Diet Is Better Than Yours on Hulu. If you knew me IRL, you wouldn’t be surprised by this because 1) I’m obsessed with the host, Shaun T (#allrightyall) and 2) I love a good competition reality show. Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model
(RIP), Top Chef… I love watching people compete to be the best at their craft. And MDIBTY is no different. For those unfamiliar with the premise: The show has 5 people who feel like they want to get healthy choose a popular diet plan, then work one-on-one with the creator of the plan to see who loses the highest percentage of weight after 14 weeks. The participant who is the biggest loser (see what I did there?) is meant to indicate the best diet plan (and boost the street cred of its creator).
The plans are totally different and the before the show, each participant picked the one they thought would be the best fit for them. This whole ‘picking what you think is best for you’ part got me thinking about how this works in career exploration and development. Like weight loss and developing healthy habits, this is not a one-size-fits-all process and has a lot to do with the individual wants, needs, desires, and habits of the person seeking to make the change. Thinking about the MDIBTY participants comparing plans and wading through all of the data that I’m sure the show gave them got me wondering, What if they don’t know themselves enough to make this choice? Because that’s the step zero of the process.
What if you don’t know yourself well enough to know what will work well for you?
If I were on a show like that, I would have to take my serious auto-immune issues into account with any diet plan. I’ve had them for about ten years, and doctors have never been able to give me an exact diagnosis or treatment for what ails me. About seven years ago, I stopped asking for guidance from professionals and started listening to my body. I tracked my food and any subsequent health problems, and came up with my own plan for what is safe, what is okay in moderation, and what to avoid completely. Through this self-knowledge, I was able to get a handle on my health and stop being sick all the time. (ICYMI, health is wealth.)
To bring this back to career stuff (since that’s why you’re here): In order to know what you want to do and the steps you should take to get there, you have to get to know yourself first. You have to understand your goals and aspirations, your skills and interests, your work style and professional persona so that you can find a spot that will accommodate all of these things in the best possible way. It’s a lot, and, in my experience, it freaks people out! I’ve had more than a handful of clients comment on the fact that they didn’t know that career stuff could be so introspective. “This feels like therapy!” is something I’ve heard more than a handful of times.
But like, what’s wrong with that? Therapy and mental illness are so stigmatized that people often shy away from doing a fraction of the introspective work necessary to make decisions that are the best for their situations. As I know I’ve said a million times on this blog (and will say a million times more), this is messy stuff! In order for this to work and for you to like your work, you need to get to the nitty-gritty of yourself. It shouldn’t be painful, but it’s definitely not painless – and if it is, you’re probably not doing it right!
The Reflect and Connect Worksheet will help you dig deeper into yourself. It’s built on the “Assess Yourself” activity from the Employed Explorer Workbook, so if you did that already then you’re already halfway done! The key differences are that 1) there are more reflection points and 2) more explicit questions about connections. Bonus: Your work in this activity will definitely come in handy in the next activity in Figure YOU Out February, so hold on to it! If you’re currently unemployed, do this worksheet to help you figure out a direction.
If you’re currently employed and preparing to make a change, do the R&C worksheet then use the Ten Day Work Journal to keep track of what you actually do every day. You don’t need to keep a minute-by-minute log – since negative zero people have time for that during their work day. Rather, at the end of each work day, sit with the journal and answer the prompts. They’re the same every day, but that’s the point – You need to look at every day through the same lens so that, after the 10 days are over, you can reflect on your patterns. (Don’t worry – that’s in the workbook, too!) Ten days is a little long for some people, so if you feel that this is becoming a chore then stop. As long as you have at least five days (AKA: one typical work week), you should be fine… but try to do all ten. Maybe it’s the qualitative researcher in me coming out, but it’s always better to have too much data than not enough.
Be sure to fill these out honestly so that you can get the best, most actionable results.
Self-knowledge is the most valuable asset you can have when deciding on a direction for your career because it ensures that you are doing what is best for you. Just like you can’t chose the best diet plan for your body if you don’t know how your body works, you can’t pick a career path without a thorough understanding of your professional self. It’s one thing to know what you want; it’s quite another to know why you want it. But with this why, you can more easily make your what a reality.