What do you know about yourself?

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.

-Lao Tzu

In my last post, I spoke about learning from failure, and a lot of very helpful information came from a book called Career Mastery: Keys to Taking Charge of Your Career Throughout Your Work Life, by Harry Levinson.

Since that post I have found many more interesting ideas and would like to use the next few posts to share some of them.

One of the first ideas that caught my attention was Harry’s declaration that everyone’s career is dynamic.  I think we all hope this is true.  We want our careers to be stable enough to provide regular–and more than sufficient–income, but different enough to hold our interest.

However, as I read further, I discovered he wasn’t really talking about the details of our work.  Rather, he was speaking of our career expectations.  He notes that our career perceptions and expectations are molded and changed by our life experiences, our changing view of ourselves, and what activities we are able to do based upon our stage in life.  This idea was an eye opener for me.

Like many people, I have always had a pretty static image of the path my career should take.  That image looked (strangely enough) like a ladder, with a series of rungs leading ever upward.  My goal has been to increase my income and influence within my current organization. My plan was to work hard at my current job until I received the next opportunity.  Once I achieved that next position, I would repeat the process, and continue repeating that process until I either reached the top, won the lottery,  had an investment become wildly successful (in today’s economy, perhaps only slightly greater odds than the lottery), or it became time to retire.

I have had this same career map… um… well… for quite some time.  But, as I look at myself today, I am not the same person that created that career map.  My life has changed dramatically.  I am married, I have a house, I have a daughter, I have much more education and many new skills, and I have some spectacular successes and failures.  In summary, I have had experiences I never even imagined as a younger person.  So, with all these changes, how come my career map looks much the same?

I think part of the reason is because like many individuals, I assumed I knew myself and often made career decisions based primarily on external variables such as salary, whether or not the new job is a promotion, where the job is located, what perks come with the position, etc.  In fact, I often spent a tremendous amount of time and energy investigating a new opportunity, looking at it from various angles, weighing pros and cons, analyzing risks, exploring likely scenarios, etc.  Occasionally, I would consider whether or not I would enjoy the work, but often I just assumed I’d like it because the new job was the next step up on my career map.

Please don’t get me wrong, this type of analysis is not bad.  These factors are important.  The problem comes when these factors are all that is used to determine a course of action.

The fact is, few people make more than a cursory attempt to understand themselves.  And, even fewer regularly renew their investigations even if there have been significant changes in their lives.  This is a shame, because we should be regularly assessing ourselves and assessing the degree to which what we are doing now meets our self-expectations.  The bottom line:  Knowing who you are and what you want at this moment is a necessary step in making good career decisions.

In the next post, I’ll talk a little about three career stages, and begin offering a few methods for helping you know yourself better.

Call To Action:

Think about the last few job changes you made.  Do you feel the job change was a positive experience or not?  What information did you use to make your decision?  Was it primarily external data, or was it an even mixture of internal and external data?  Write down your thoughts and discoveries regarding this exercise.  They could become very helpful later.

Read To Lead:

I found a great deal of information for this post in Harry Levinson’s book Career Mastery: Keys to Taking Charge of Your Career Throughout Your Work Life Click on the title to buy your own copy, or visit your library to see if you can borrow one. I would highly recommend it. His approach is very honest, straight forward, and concise. I believe you will find a lot of his information to be very valuable and worth the time to read.

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