Updated: Sep 10, 2021
At the beginning of 2020, no one could have predicted a worldwide pandemic would cause all of us to stop in our tracks. Covid-19 laid bare our souls, making us ask questions we might have pushed aside months earlier. If there was ever a time for a reset, this seemed like the right time. And, so in that spirit, I have gotten a lot of calls and emails this year for people seeking career guidance - whether that was pursuing a different opportunity, thinking about graduate school, leaving a steady job to start a consulting firm, taking on a specific assignment and so on.
This end of year blog is what I’ve learned about myself and what I’ve gleaned from others when we ask ourselves if we are in the right place at the right time. And, if you are not in the right place at the right time, how do you pivot to move forward?
Career as A Personality Extension
I’ve had my own consulting firm for almost two years now and it has made me more self-aware than at any time in my recent history. Having your own company means choosing your own clients, understanding your value add, and communicating that effectively to others. I developed my own website (dianecherryconsulting.com) and it forced me to really focus on what value I bring, how I differentiate myself from others, and what clients/projects bring out my best skills and serve their needs at the same time. As I have spoken with others, I have used the analogy of work as an extension of your personality.
As an extrovert, someone who is organized, and also does not mind the messy work of public policy, I enjoy putting structure on seemingly complex and unstructured ideas. In addition, I am a natural relationship person and I like putting people together that may not have known one another to move ideas/projects/work forward. When my work allows me to showcase my relationship building, structure, extraverted nature, I am working at my full potential.
So, as I have spoken with others seeking career advice, I start with the question of what
personality traits define who they are. Are you someone who seeks group work vs. prefers to work alone, enjoys data analysis vs. writing, likes to see their work come to fruition vs. having little to no preference on seeing an outcome. All of these choices stem from personality traits and in my opinion, are more important than a particular sector, company, or position. If you are not working within your personality strengths, work will suffer and you will be unhappy.
Your Career Means You Take Charge
I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve talked with who are unhappy in what they are doing but are not taking the reins to make any change. At the end of the day, loyalty to a company/boss/coworkers is admirable but you have to be responsible for any changes because no one else will. But it doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Who is your personal “board of directors” that you can call for dealing with a challenging situation or problems with a company culture? If you don’t have a “board of directors” get one – no can navigate everything alone.
I’ve had calls from people who want to move on but feel loyalty to their boss or company. I always tell them, when push comes to shove, you are responsible for you and while you might have loyalty, at the end of the day no one should care more about your career than you.
Don’t Make Your Opportunity Too Narrow
Often, I talk with recent graduates about what they believe are their future opportunities and I’m constantly amazed at the narrow box they have for themselves. In one case, a graduate wanted to work a specific company doing a certain type of work. If you define your future opportunity so narrowly you may miss something that is a better fit. Look at all sectors, industries and jobs so that you find the one that works with your personality.
For example, someone wanting to work in the clean energy industry can do that in many places – a clean energy company, at a state energy office, at a non-profit or advocacy organization – the breadth of experience beyond one sector gives you a new perspective. Doing different types of jobs whether that is business development, communications, policy makes you more attractive when you look for the next opportunity.
What if You are Stuck
If you are unhappy at a current position, figure out why you are unhappy. After you diagnose the cause, you are in a place to get unstuck. If you are between opportunities, take a deep breath and start networking. However, when you network, do not have a panicked demeanor. I’ve talked with people who are so distraught with their situation that I feel more like a psychologist. Don’t come across like that.
And, as one final word of advice, always treat people with respect because your reputation is often all that you have. If you are difficult to work with or treat others poorly, that reputation will follow you where you go. When I was suddenly left without a job and had to figure out my next step, I was grateful that I had a good reputation in the industry so I didn’t have to overcome some other shortcomings.