Making Sense of Your Career
When you’re thinking about creating a fulfilling career, which way should you be looking – forwards or back?
In his much-quoted Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs famously claimed:
‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.’
Well, I certainly agree that the dots you connect looking back over your career offer valuable insights. With the advantage of hindsight, you can make sense of which choices you made at any given time and why you made them. You might also be able to spot themes emerging - perhaps as your values, circumstances and priorities have changed. Perhaps you can see more clearly now.
But I differ from Mr Jobs when he claims you can ‘only’ join them looking backward. I believe it’s possible to create a more fulfilling career by taking the insights gleaned from past and current careers, combining them with greater understanding about who you are and what’s important to you now, then building a future to bring that vision to life.
This is my work as a career change coach!
And it’s also how I’ve made the latest in my own career shifts.
It’s behind you! (And in front)
But let’s stick with the idea of review and re-create - how can this backward review offer insight to fuel your future career choices?
I’ve developed a 2-step approach to help you gain greater clarity about your past and present motivations:
Review your past career transitions, asking yourself two questions:
WHY did you make that change and HOW did you do it?
The first question (WHY) uncovers aspects of your purpose at that time, perhaps related to circumstance (return to work after a career break / need for specific experience to progress / change of location) or related to what was most important to you at that time (values like flexibility, autonomy, creativity).
Here’s an example taken from my review of an early career shift:
From the WHY column, I can see motivations, desires and purpose.
I was driven by wanting to:
· help people in a similar situation to myself
· work with adults, not school students
· empower these clients to build new working lives to suit their situation
· personal and professional values of creativity, autonomy and flexibility
· an over-arching purpose to serve, empower, enable, inspire
Although this example is taken from a couple of decades ago, I can also observe similar values and purpose aligned and at work in my career today. Values and purpose are relatively consistent over the course of our lives, even though the priority of values at different stages and the way we express values and professional impact may change.
So this information is highly relevant when thinking about creating a more fulfilling career and looking for a place to start.
From the WHAT column, I can see particular strengths and skills: pro-activity, creativity, innovation, self-belief, organisation, research, teaching and learning. Again, this is useful – do I want to use these skills in the next phase of my career?
How do you use this information looking forwards?
Do you want to be able to confidently and coherently tell your career story to a future employer, lucidly explaining your choices and showing the relevance to your next move and future aspirations?
Or do you want to create something completely new, a change of direction using other skills and interests, making a new contribution in a different location or context and more directly expressing important values?
Do you want to answer the questions: what does a fulfilling career look like to me and how can I create it?
Depending on your questions, the insights gathered from joining the dots in your career transitions will offer you clarity, provide evidence to demonstrate your achievements, and a smart framework for asking yourself these vital questions.
‘Vital’ that is if you want to create and develop a fulfilling career!
To get you started, why not request my 4-page self-study workbook Joining the Dots in your Career Transitions here, or in the comments below?
I’d love to know what you discover and what this means for your next steps. Don’t just let this newfound knowledge sit there. It can catalyse a more fulfilling working life!
If you need a nudge to bring this to reality, to see what your results are signposting and what’s really stopping you getting into informed action, let’s arrange a discovery call.
Joining the Dots Forwards is designed to help you put what you discover about yourself to work!