Me: At 50, still asking, “What will I do when I grow up?”
Some people wake up one day and say, “I know what I’m going to do,” and do it. My wife did. She went to university to study nursing 30 years ago and has nursed happily and successfully ever since. Me? Now that’s a whole different story. No idea then, no real idea 10, 20, 25 years later. Fortunately now, 30 years later, I think I have worked out what’s important – but I’ve still not exactly figured out what the ideal job is, or even if it exists. My career is constantly evolving and mostly beyond my control, and unless you’re in a very structured path – Uni, Law, Lawyer, Barrister, Queens Council, Judge, autobiography and retirement – I’d say you’re probably in a similar situation.
If only I knew, way back when, what I know now
If I did, maybe I would have spent less time being concerned about knowing what I should do and more time focussing on what I could influence and just letting my career evolve. As Stephen Covey said, we all focus on what we are concerned about, smart people focus on what they can influence (I am really concerned about the influence I’m having, are you?). I think we all want to name our ideal job. I am going to be a Nuclear Neuro Physicist Scientific Surgical Entrepreneurial Innovator – if I can’t get my first choice, that is. But what I’ve discovered is that I can be everything I want to be, or lots of what I want to be, and what on earth my job is doesn’t really matter. What I need to do is to work out what I am good at, what I am passionate about, where are my strengths, weaknesses, what really impacts me emotionally and to career plan around that. It’s simple. Forget planning for a specific job. Plan for what’s important to you. Set it up and let it take care of itself. Here’s the first step.
Let’s face it, the old brain works hard and often to its limits. The other morning as I noticed I was putting a cereal box away in the refrigerator where it definitely didn’t belong, I realised that I could definitely only do one thing at a time and even then, it had better be pretty simple. Ok, maybe make my breakfast first and then think about my next blog post after. Maybe you can eat and think at the same time if you really concentrate. But can I think while I am concentrating? Fortunately for me and other similar strugglers, the brain has the capacity to perform and manage a variety of activities subconsciously, like walking, eating, breathing and gathering information.
With a billion pieces of information available for the grey matter to absorb and interpret at any one moment in time, is it any wonder we need a good filter system? One that identifies firstly what we need to know, those things that support our survival and basic safety. And then secondly, the things that are nice to know, that we want and desire.
The need-to-know filter operates on auto pilot and largely in the domain of our subconscious. What we need to know is quickly identified and brought to the attention of the conscious brain. The need to know overrides everything else and even triggers the Fight and Flight responses.
The want-to-know floats between the conscious and subconscious depending on your awareness. For example New Year’s resolutions are usually a nice to have/want to know. On New Year’s Day they are right up there in the conscious. 48 hours later, they are often off the radar, buried away in the subconscious and probably being filtered out as surplus to real requirements.
The good news is that we set the filters for our brain and we can do this at a conscious level. That means that the things that you are interested in are filtered and presented to you as part of your predefined criteria. You just need to acknowledge and pursue the opportunities. Your job is to keep the desired/want to know up there in the conscious and to recognise opportunities.
Good god, man – what does that all mean and how does it work in practice?
Imagine you’re driving into the city and you need to find a car park. This is an action you’re performing consciously. It’s amazing how all of a sudden you’re seeing reversing lights, indicators, empty spaces and so on that normally just wouldn’t be on your radar. Normally that’s filtered out, but you have awakened your conscious, your awareness. Ever gone to purchase a new car and someone says try a Skoda and you say I have never heard of let alone seen a Skoda. When you get home, you notice the neighbor drives one and you realise she has been for 5 years, and now they are everywhere – seems they are the most common car on the road.
There are many esoteric ways to describe the phenomena associated with this subconscious collection, filtering and then presentation of information and opportunities. I argue that mostly it has to do with your conscious awareness. You can call it Serendipity, Synchronicity, coincidence or the law of attraction. Given we have little real knowledge of the capacity and potential of our brain and that it continually astounds us with its capacity to learn, adapt and solve the most complex challenges, I think we are simply experiencing the brain at work. The point to all this is awareness. Tell your brain what you’re after, what you want and need, then let it do its stuff.
Crikey, what do I do next?
Check out my post last week on personal brand (Personal Brand – The simple explanation of a must have). Working on your personal brand is a significant element of your professional development plan. Your personal brand should be a reflection of the authentic you and the experience I expect to have with you in a professional relationship. (The Authentic you is a reflection of what is really important to you.) In working on your personal brand, you’re also mapping out a career plan for the dream job that may not even exist yet.
The Career plan for the person without a career plan
- Think aboutandwrite down:
- what you’re passionate about;
- what your strengths are;
- what your weaknesses are (ones you want to work on and that are genuinely important to you); and
- what emotional and meaningful experiences you have had in the past associated with work/hobbies .
If you could find a job that focusses you in these areas you’d be laughing.
- Put all these things in a diary or journal and commit to reviewing them and updating them in a disciplined manner, say once a month. Set yourself a calendar reminder.
- Socialise your personal brand. Don’t be afraid to tell people about the things you’ve listed above. Don’t be scared to speak with emotion.
- “I am really passionate about
i. People management …
ii. Professional development of junior staff …”
If you do this you’re awakening Conscious Awareness in others on your behalf – instead of letting their subconscious tell them “Tom seems friendly but doesn’t work well at his desk,” they know “Tom works well with a team!” and soon everyone’s working on your career. What a Bonus!
- At any one time make sure you’re working on something from your list above. For example, if you’re a great public speaker and you enjoy it, join a public speaking group, volunteer to facilitate, MC, moderate etc. If you’re weak in an area, but you’re passionate about that area and you want to improve in it (want being the operative word) then find a way to get involved: a group, training, etc. It doesn’t have to be at work and maybe it’s better if it isn’t.
And as if it were magic
Once you set your brain filters, and you become consciously aware of what’s important you will become magically aware of opportunities to pursue what’s important. Imagine if you spent your whole life wanting to be a doctor because you knew you had to have a career plan with the perfect job and title attached and you set yourself that goal and committed to it, but in the end, you just couldn’t drag yourself out of working in a non-descript job full of all the things you’re passionate about, that you’re good at and that engaged you. How would you feel? Pretty good, I hope.
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Many thanks to my nephew James Westmore for his wonderful artwork and to Rosie Broadfoot for her continued enthusiasm for editing my posts – each are pursuing their passions.