In my work helping individuals uncover and move to their “next” in their careers, there’s one stage in the process that is both important and easy to rationalize away as unnecessary. This step—Self-Discovery—is the one where I encourage people to spend some structured time getting to know themselves a bit better as part of plotting their next career move.
Sure, it sounds like a prescription for navel-gazing, but it’s not. The Self-Discovery phase of my Career Reinvent Framework™ is about three things:
- Gaining insights from others about our signature strengths and impact
- Tuning in to the situations in our lives that bring out the absolute best in us
- Reviewing our past for pointers to our future
When I explain these three activities to individuals in my Career Boot Camp programs, I am always a little disappointed (but sympathetic) with the lack of excitement for the tasks. I can’t recall a single excited response. No one has jumped up and shouted, “Yay, I’m going to dust off my network list of former colleagues and ask them about me.
Someone suggested this is like asking for input on your eulogy a bit prematurely.
Yet, the output is to a person, priceless in offering directional guidance for career step. In some instances, the impact of the work is transformational. There’s something important about tuning in to you when you’re unsure where to turn in one of the most important areas of your life.
Five Reasons to Invest Time in Self-Discovery to Help Your Career Pivot
1. We Don’t Understand How We Affect People
You can labor for a lifetime and not understand the impact you have on the people around you. Many don’t see how they affected others as teachers, counselors, mentors, or stable ground in shifting environments. The responses from a few long-ago colleagues have prompted tears. “I had no idea I helped this person in that way.”
How you affect people offers clues to what you might do next.
2. Others See Our Strengths Better than We Do
Research reinforces the notion that we don’t see our strengths as clearly as others, in large part because those things come easy to us. “No big deal” is what we think about the activities we are uniquely good at. To others, those skills or abilities are a big deal.
The input on our signature strengths is essential in expanding our view of the options open to us. We tend to generalize our skills and vocations and think in terms of a narrow, linear track.
Consider: “I’m a good accountant, so I need to find an accounting job.” Or, “I don’t know how to do anything else—I’m an accountant.”
However, when input from others we worked with suggests were great with people, a natural teacher, and someone who focuses on the bigger picture that happens to be an accountant, our universe of options for “next” opens up a great deal.
3. It’s Important to Know When You are at Your Best
Think about moments in your work life when you hit a state of flow. These are the moments when you function at a different level. Time and distractions fade and you are focused exclusively on the work in front of you. For some, it’s a crisis that draws out their best leadership self. For others, it might be leading change, helping problem-solve, or helping others find agreement when there are no visible signs of compromise.
These moments and the situations that inspire us to be at our best are essential data points pointing to possible new roles.
4. There’s Always a Through-Line—We’re Just Blind to It
Spend time exploring the influences in your life and the stories that define your family’s culture and sense of pride; you’re likely to understand better what’s important to you. The burdens of life tend to force us to compromise and ignore the dreams of youth. We lose track of where we came from and what we always wanted to be before responsibilities kicked in and settled. Yet, many reach a stage where they no longer have to compromise. Understanding their backstory and identifying the through-line is powerful for many.
5. The Work in Self-Discovery Helps Expand Your View
The biggest challenge I see for individuals who feel restless and ready for a new adventure is the lack of ideas on what they might do. The work of self-discovery serves as a springboard for an important idea-generation activity that helps individuals see a much more extensive set of options they might pursue.
The Bottom-Line for Now
Most approach the Self-Discovery phase with trepidation and leave it exhilarated and filled with ideas. The most straightforward use of the output from this work is to apply it to find a job. The best use is to apply it to transform your life.