This morning I ran across an excellent post by Penelope Trunk on New Ways to Find a New Job. She began with what I think is probably the most important piece of career advice I could ever give you:
When you see someone who has a career you want, it’s a safe bet that they spent the majority of their career clearly defining themselves and then differentiating themselves from all the other people who defined themselves the same way.
Self-knowledge is a huge career tool, but most people find it onerous and try to skip it. The problem with skipping over self-knowledge is that people hit a career ceiling, not because someone put it on top of them – we put it on top of ourselves by not knowing who we are.
A few points here. . . .
First, most people see developing knowledge of themselves, their strengths, etc. as a difficult job that they'd rather avoid. Sometimes they want to avoid it because they just don't want to know the answers. But more often they see it as somehow "frivolous," less important than the tasks at hand. Knowing yourself is seen as so much navel-gazing when there's more important work to be done.
But as Penelope points out, when you skip the self-knowledge step, you run into all of these self-imposed limits. You try to do work for which you are not well-suited, to fit your round self into that square hole. Or you are completely unaware of the beliefs you have about yourself and your capacities, so you continually undershoot and let opportunities pass you by because you're afraid to own your awesomeness.
When I begin career counseling with people, I always start with the self-knowledge piece and find that most of the time, this is where people resist me the most. They want to start talking about what jobs interest them or what the market is looking for. They don't want to go inside and do the difficult work of figuring out what they have to offer and where their passions are.
The other piece that is important in what Penelope says is the idea that we have to differentiate ourselves from the thousands of other people who do what we do. We are all unique snowflakes, but the problem is we don't take the time to really look at the ways in which we are unique. We keep focusing on our snowflake qualities and all other people see is that we're snow, like everyone else.
It's only through doing the ongoing and arduous work of looking at who we REALLY are that we are able to appreciate, refine and put out into the world those qualities that make each of us different. We have to keep asking ourselves, "what is unique about how I do what I do? How can I build on that?"
Self-knowledge is a critical component of career and professional development, but it's something that most of us shy away from doing. Then we are disappointed when we do not progress in our careers as we'd like to. If we want to find success, we have to be willing to take a good hard look at ourselves on a regular basis. Self-knowledge is the key to finding the right work and to making ourselves uniquely suited to do that work.
Are you ready to buckle down and know yourself?