Why Can’t I Pick A Career? 2/4
Following up on part one in which we discussed how to change your mindset when considering what you want to do with your career.
This article will look at how you define, and more importantly, implement a practitioner's mindset in your career.
Already have a clear mission?
If you have a clear career mission from the outset that you are confident will give you control, enjoyment and connectedness. You then need to work backwards to gain the skills needed to progress up the career ladder.
For example, if you are clear that you want to be a project manager in the nuclear industry, undertake a career mapping exercise [link], to map out your career path as — Project Assistant > Project Engineer > Project Manager > Senior Project Manager > Project Director > Chief Operating Officer — now get to work building the skills needed to upskill and level-up to the next step on your career journey, then rinse and repeat.
Make sure you speak to others that have already done it then put your head down and follow your mission. Do not fall prey to distractions trying to knock you off course, stay on the path.
I wish you the best of luck and hopefully, you will get the happiness you deserve from your chosen career
Can’t Pick A Career?
If like me, you had (or still have) no idea what you want to be when you grow up, then there is good news and bad news.
The bad news is that you are going to need to make a decision, stick with that decision and put in the hard work for a number of years.
This is the part that no one likes to hear. But pretty much everyone that I have spoken to who has a successful career has had to go through it.
The good news, as long as you stick to the principles we are going to run through below, it doesn’t really matter which decision you make as the process ultimately takes you to the ‘adjacent possible’ in which your next mission will present itself.
The world doesn’t owe you anything. Your boss won’t immediately let you pick your next assignment. You can’t decide you want to take a month off each year to travel around France.
To get these rewards you need to build rare and valuable skills that you can cash in for rewards that will give you more control, enjoyment and fulfilment.
Before I go continue to look at how we decide which skills to pursue, I just want to clarify something to those who are not currently working — students leaving college or people in-between jobs.
Don’t waste any time searching for the right career. Find a job, any job that is available. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make you happy right now, you can always quit later. You need to find what it is that you truly value, and work at that every day. It is by working in a paying job that we are able to do this.
Rare and valuable skills
There are many skills that you can choose to develop. We are not talking about general communication, persuasion, teamwork or leadership-type skills. These general skills are important to change the way that you are perceived.
As part of achieving our mission, we need to develop skills that change what you are to your company or industry.
Furthermore, when you are the top performer in your company or the leader in your field, you will naturally develop the other skills or they will become less significant in defining your success.
There are a couple of ways that you can identify the rare and valuable skills that you need to work on through your everyday business interactions.
#1 Identify someone you admire in your field and ask yourself the question of what they can do that you can’t. This is something that Tony Robbins terms, Modelling.
They may have a qualification, technical skills, or a way of communicating you don’t currently possess. They could also have specific industry or functional knowledge. It could even be a reputation or network that they have built over years.
List them down.
#2 You can listen to feedback. From team members, bosses, customers, and pretty much any other stakeholder that is involved in, or affected by what you do. What are their current issues? What task would they pay someone to take off their hands? What skills are they lacking?
List them down. Could you upskill yourself to solve one of these problems?
#3 Now you have a list of rare and valuable skills, it is time to look at yourself. Look at the skills that will give you career capital in the future and identify where you have any gaps.
This exercise often depends upon where you are on the career ladder. In more junior roles, you will be looking to improve your technical capability (learn design software, gain risk management experience, work on writing skills). In more senior roles you will be looking to improve your supporting skills (leadership, communication, motivation).
You now have a list of skills to work on.
Before we discuss how to do this in the next section, it is important to not fall into a trap when looking into the skills you are going to develop. Do not proceed, or at least do not prioritise skills that are high in demand as they will not be seen as rare and valuable.
Additionally, do not pursue skills that people are not willing to pay for. Ask or seek evidence first.
Now you know what rare and valuable skills to acquire to propel you up the career ladder in pursuit of your mission, it is time to get to work and learn them.
Deliberate Practice is a term coined by K. Anders Ericsson which is used as a blueprint to ensure your training is effective in making you valuable.
It encompasses the five steps below:
The first step involves working out what market you are in — “winner takes all” or “auction”?
“Winner takes all” markets are those in which there is only one type of career capital available and everyone is competing for it.
Writers, standup artists, or brain surgeons. For example, the only capital a software developer has is their software writing capability.
“Auction markets” are less structured and different people in similar roles may get there by generating a unique collection of career capital.
For example, the career capital of a CEO could come from Finance, Technical, Marketing or Operations.
The second step involves identifying what type of career capital to pursue.
If you are in a winner takes all market, this is pretty simple as there is only one type of capital.
For an auction market, you have flexibility. One thing you can do is to seek open doors. These are the opportunities that are already open to you based on the career capital you have already generated.
Open doors allow you to move quickly and they build momentum as you progress. This is where it can often be difficult to move into another field, particularly later on in your career as it is difficult to find open doors with a limited network in the sector*.
*Spoiler alert! In subsequent articles in this series, we will discuss how changes in demand for work in the nuclear sector is opening doors that have been closed for decades.
The third step is that you need to define what success looks like. You need clear goals — if you don’t know where you are headed it is hard to take effective action.
If you take the rare and valuable skill identified above and then decide to learn a topic or skill by reading a book, signing up for an online course or enrolling on a new qualification, success is still not guaranteed.
If you want to increase the chances of successfully acquiring career capital you need to set goals or benchmarks.
Benchmarking will give you a clear definition of success. Examples include:
- Rare and valuable skill: Risk Management. Benchmark: implement and manage risk management across Project X during the next project phase.
- Rare and valuable skill: Written Communication. Benchmark: write 10 articles on LinkedIn seeking feedback from peers.
- Rare and valuable skill: New Design Engineering Software. Benchmark: gain certification and run internal intro presentation in the office.
- Rare and valuable skill: Twitter Marketing. Benchmark: generate 100 Tweets with supporting analysis paper.
Don’t just look to get better, find a project that with your current level of skill, you currently couldn’t achieve, but with your new skills, you will be able to. You need to be uncomfortable to improve.
The Fourth step is that we have to stretch and destroy.
Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, but is the opposite of deliberate practice.
To grow we need a deliberate effort of practice — not just mindlessly repeating something you can already do, over and over again. Many people find a plateau whereas following deliberate practice will push you past this plateau.
However, deliberate practice is often difficult and not enjoyable — hence the term stretch.
You also need to embrace immediate honest feedback even if it destroys what you thought was good. Go to lengths to keep a constant stream of feedback. Harsh feedback can accelerate your growth.
And the fifth step, be patient. You need to have a long-term perspective. You also need to remain focused on your mission and ignore the distractions that entice you across the journey.
Acquiring capital can take time. Build your capital day after day and eventually, you will look up and think “hey I’m pretty good at this” and before long others will notice too.
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You can find the next article in the series here.