It’s the pattern, stupid!

I’m an idiographer. You might think I’m an idiot for saying so but idiography is actually the study of individual cases or events. And that’s what I do as a career professional. It is a proven, scientifically valid method for career assessment.

I demonstrated this method in some detail recently to colleagues in Las Vegas at the Career Management Alliance conference. Heres’ what one of them wrote to me after attending my session:

“I so enjoyed your presentation. I have long been perplexed by the emphasis career professionals place on assessments. Although I have a masters in career development, and took a semester course on assessments, I have found them to be of very limited value in the work I do with clients. Like you, I prefer the story approach as a more effective vehicle to discover the critical subtleties and nuances of their true essence. Your presentation was a very refreshing change and was much appreciated!”

My clients come to me because they want to make a significant career transition. In order to help them make on, I ask them to write stories about times in their life when they are doing what they enjoy most and doing it well.

I then analyze those stories for their key success factors in order to construct an accurate and reliable picture of their right work. I match this picture to specific jobs in work settings that will recognize, reward and motivate them for what they do naturally and effortlessly.

We then work together on the practical and realistic stuff to move them for where they are now into a better jobfit, one that harmonizes with their motivational pattern.

What is assessment?

Assessment is all about answering two simple questions: WHERE and WHAT? Which organization or work setting will motivate me by recognizing and rewarding me for what I enjoy most and do best. And, what are the job titles in that organization which best match up with my talents, skills, experience, education, and values.

To borrow a sports analogy : it’s choosing a ballpark to play in, and the position you are best suited to playing.

Two kinds of assessment

Most people who have taken an assessment through school or work have used a nomotheic assessment tool. That is a technical term for a tool that helps an individual search for general traits or characteristics, such as skills, values, aptitudes, interests, or personality traits. Some of these tools are self-assessment, and others need to be administered by a professional. But they all use prescribed categories of characteristics and match them to careers.

The idiographic approach is not about particular strengths or traits. It’s about the pattern! At the risk of stating the obvious–like any meaningful story, our personal stories are greater than the sum of its parts.

But our left-brain, cause-and-effect, linear, engineering-driven world (the mechanistic worldview) tends to emphasize component parts, instead of spending more time looking for the relationships between the parts (the systemic or holistic worldview).

The pattern of relationship between parts

A personal story has many elements that influence individual behavior, including family of origin dynamics, a sense of place (geography) and time (history), key relationships, major illnesses, attitude to authority, and much more that can influence choices and outcomes.

For me, each component part of a story might be important but they are only important in how they interact when my client is in action doing what they enjoy most. It’s the pattern! And, yes, the component parts that make up the pattern are important. In my case, I focus on certain key success factors. That doesn’t mean the others are wasted, not at all.

horse-cart_optThis picture of a man in a cart trying to pull a horse looks ridiculous, doesn’t it? This person is not going to get far. And yet, this is exactly where many of us end up in our careers because we put the cart in front of the horse.

Worse, yet, we neglect the horse as we develop our careers. We focus on our social assets, filling our cart with acquired skills, education, credentials, contacts, and so on. We invest so much time, energy, and money on these elements of career, that we neglect to nurture and develop what the horse represents: natural strength, vitality, drive, energy, passion!

The story-telling approach to assessment focuses on the horse; that is, it helps our clients to remember and recount times in their lives when they were energized, full of life and vitality. My job as an idiographer is to show them how those key success factors connect to real jobs in the real world of work, personally rewarding and financially sustainable jobs.

The cart is still their with all its goodies. What is important is the correct relationship putting the horse in front of the cart. Now the horse is pulling the cart with passion, drive, strength, and energy.

Passion and profit are not mutually exclusive! My job as a career professional is to make this connection real for my clients.

Your Story, My Passion

Story has the power to heal and to build you up to work with passion.

We are born, live, and die. This is our basic life story. We can’t do much about our beginnings or endings, but we have a lot of choice about how we live.

Stories can help us do life better. I have always believed this to be true. In a world made up of atoms and stories, I was always more fascinated by story. I very much appreciate and enjoy what scientists, engineers, tradesman, medical professionals and others do with atoms, but it’s not my thing. When it comes to discovering and developing your right work, it is always best I believe to stick to your thing.

We are the only species on this planet that constructs a story for ourselves to follow on a daily basis. We all have a fundamental choice : what story will I live?

However, most of us do not choose; instead, we adopt stories and live out of them unconsciously, e.g. reacting to circumstances we grew up in, rather than creating what really matters to us.

Usually, there are two stories being constructed throughout our lives. One story is about our social self, trying to please others and fitting in; the other is a story about our authentic self, trying to follow the desires of our hearts in a society that is often encouraging us to be something else. We sometimes get lost, or confused, in trying to resolve tension between the two.

Choosing a path is not easy, and the hard rock of reality trips us, so we stumble or fall. We may find ourselves terrifyingly alone, psychologically or physically broken, or simply bored, cynical, or stoic.

Fortunately, stories have the power to heal and build up. If life is a mystery, or a haphazard and random collection of events, then story helps to find patterns and plots. Story gives meaning to life.
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I am a personal story analyst committed to you reclaim your authentic self and write a life story that brings out your best so that you can give that to others through your work, job, and career.

This is important for you but it matters for the rest of us too. When a person loses their way in terms of work, the rest of us are deprived of their unique and wonderful contribution to life!

I stand in awe of your talents and motivations. People are incredibly gifted! I get very excited when I read about the activities and events that make up your life—during childhood, teen years, and in each decade of adulthood. These are stories about times in your life that were particularly enjoyable or consistently satisfying, because they energized rather than drained you.

I give you a simple format around which to organize your stories so that they can be easily analyzed for your key success factors. What I do is a little like mining for gold, separating ore from precious metal. I never get tired of mining for the gold that runs through your stories!

I bring my talents and passion for story analysis and writing to this process by preparing a detailed report. This is not a generic report that puts you into categories and boxes. You are more complex than simple labels that cannot capture the complexities, nuances, and subtleties of a life. What matters in determining your right work is your motivational pattern as a whole, not the individual variables.

I love to communicate your uniqueness in clear and precise terms with a map, or Individual Passion Pattern, then match it to specific jobs in specific work settings. After all, there are over 60,000 job titles operating in our world of work, with new ones being created daily. We are truly fortunate to live in a part of the world that offers so much opportunity.

I strive to give you a clear route to a new destination of employment, or self-employment, or business building.

My goal is to provide you with a vocabulary to communicate with clarity and confidence to others along the way. My commitment is to keep the information grounded in what is practical and realistic with an Action Plan and ongoing assistance to implement your transition.

The result? Your career decisions are made easier. The journey becomes the adventure it is meant to be. Life is sweet. And the world becomes a better place.

Using the flip side of life to find your right work

How to use negative life experiences to uncover the truth of your right work

Why does autobiographical writing help you discover and develop your right work? Writing stories from your life helps you understand your own life in terms of the forces that have defined and changed you over the years. The facts, people, and events of your life have formed a seamless web of meaning that help you answer the questions : Who am I? What am I trying to accomplish with my life?

I know it sounds strange but even negative life experiences help us uncover the truth of our right work. For example, I am particularly ashamed of a shoplifting episode during my teens. I got caught. However, I really enjoyed playing a different character in order to avoid incarceration.

I have a gift for story-telling. Sitting in a police station, I walked out without charges by weaving an elaborate lie a la Frank Abagnale Jr., played by Leonardo Dicaprio, in the movie Catch Me If You Can. Unlike him, the person I impersonated found me out and turned me in. I was charged and put on probation.

This was morally reprehensible, I agree, but when we are looking for clues to our right work, we should not neglect those negative experiences. Every event has a flip side. We need to strip away the moral fabric of these events because we often “sin out of our strengths.”

The examined life lets you see patterns of behavior. It lets you see lessons learned the hard way. You learn the value of failure, and the value of accomplishments. Your life is your stock in trade. Even if you think your life has been unimportant to the world, it’s important to you, and that’s what counts!

One of the Success Stories on my website features a natural promoter who has a knack for getting things started. As a college student, he jerry-rigged a payphone in his dorm to permit free long distance phone calls. It wasn’t legal, but it was enterprising.

He was always starting money-saving, or money-making ventures. But he lost interest once the crank was turning and required daily attention to details to keep things running smoothly. He was criticized his whole life for his very strength. The people around him who had a knack for managing had no talent for getting things started; but once a venture was started, they criticized him for not having their talent for managing. Those criticisms cut deeply into his self esteem until he understood the value of his talent.

The key here is to identify our natural skills and abilities. How we use those talents is another issue. We choose virtue or vice; we use our gifts in the service of good or bad. It is, of course, difficult to write about emotional events in our lives, especially painful ones. But when you are writing your autobiography, try to portray the events of your life with accurate and honest descriptions. Leave out the moral judgments.

Try it. Pick one negative event from your life, and write about it according to the following format :

1. A clear statement of the activity (in one sentence)

2. What caused you to get started in the activity?

3. Write a detailed story of what you did, how you did it, where, when, and with whom. Stick to the facts. Focus on the how not the why.

4. What parts gave you the most sense of satisfaction and fulfillment?

5. Was there some significant reason you stopped the activity?

In my book JobJoy : Finding Your Right Work through the Power of Your Personal Story, I provide a format for charting and writing your stories quickly and easily.

From your stories, I generate a JobJoy Report. This report gets to the essence of who and what you are in terms of work. Career decision-making becomes easy. It taps into the motivations of each individual.

I analyze your stories and prepare a comprehensive detailed report that will identify and define your Key Success Factors. This report answers the questions: What are the natural talents you use and consistently bring satisfaction to you when you are doing what you enjoy most and doing it well? What is the subject matter that you gravitate to without even trying? What circumstances or conditions have to exist in the job environment to bring out the best in you? How do you naturally build relationships with others?

From this analysis we can generate an Ideal Job Description and match it with specific opportunities in the real world of work.

How to Write Your Way into Your Right Work

do-kids-write-autobiography-themselves-120X120Do you think about changing jobs? The power to do so is right under your nose…well, behind your nose actually! Stored in your brain are memories about events and activities you truly enjoyed in life since childhood. Here are some tips for analyzing your life history for key success factors that reveal work that is personally and financially rewarding.

Do a quick inventory from your childhood years (ages 6-12), then your teen years (ages 13-19), then your young adult years (ages 20-29), then your thirties, then forties, and so on. In each period, there are specific examples. You can even create a shortlist of your top 10 most enjoyable events.

The power of your stories is in the facts, people, and events of your life. These stories are like veins of gold that run through your life. Mining gold, however, involves moving a lot of ore with tools and equipment to get at that precious metal.

Similarly, mining the veins of gold in your life is easier when you use the tool of writing. Write about what is important to you, not what you did to please others. Identify those activities that gave you an intrinsic sense of pleasure and satisfaction.

Above all, be brutally honest about what is you truly enjoyed, as opposed to what you are proud. You may be proud of a certain accomplishment but there is no real innate pleasure from the activity itself. For example, many people get high grades in school in order to please their parents, not because they truly love math, or history, or truly enjoy studying and doing homework.

It actually makes it easier to tell the story if you stick to a proven format, like the one I provide in my book JobJoy. You may want to analyze or evaluate your stories for an accurate and reliable picture of your motivational pattern. Or, you may want to turn the exercise over to a personal story analyst to really nail down the essence of who and what you are in terms of work when you are doing what you enjoy most and doing it well.

For example, your stories can be analyzed to identify and define your Key Success Factors. Please understand that the factors critical to success are very different than personality traits, or the results you get from Myers-Briggs and other personality assessments you may have done.

A personal story assessment can answer in very clear, concise and meaningful terms the questions: What are the natural talents you use and consistently bring satisfaction to you when you are doing what you enjoy most and doing it well? What is the subject matter that you gravitate to without even trying? What circumstances or conditions have to exist in the job environment to bring out the best in you? How do you naturally build relationships with others? How do these success factors combine to create an essential motivation; that is, the thing you are best at and best suited for in terms of work?

This accurate and reliable picture of your right work can be developed into an Ideal Job Description and matched to specific opportunities in the world of work.

Stop horsing around and focus on strengths!

I recently worked with a young woman who has an unusual gift for understanding horse behavior. I’ll call her Lisa (not her real name.) She only discovered this talent in the last few years when she took up the hobby of horseback riding.

But her natural talent for reading the character of a horse quickly and accurately was so obvious to the owner of the stables where she rides that she was given a job to work with the “problem” horses there.

This teenage girl struggles to finish high school and has no aptitude for the hard sciences that are pre-requisites for acceptance into veterinary school which her family considers to be the only career option open to her.

She came to me feeling depressed and discouraged about her career prospects.

However, when she talked about her part-time work at the stables, her passion for horse behavior was obvious. Clearly, such work energizes her. Her aptitude for empathizing with horses, for communicating with them in a way that helps change behavior is a very valuable talent in the world of horses.

It got me thinking about the work done by The Gallup Organization over the past decade (http://www.gallup.com). Gallup delivers in-depth insights on public opinion polling, societal issues, education, management, and human
talent. They found that focusing on strengths brings about real business results.

“There’s always a greater return on investment when people focus on strengths – when they focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong.” Gallup also found that when professionals can do what they do best, their organizations have lower turnover and higher customer satisfaction. These results lead to bottom-line success.

Lisa is at her first career crossroads in life. Should she nurture and develop her unusual gift into a career? If you believe in a God of some sort, you might think God created horses and loves them, and God created Lisa and loves her, and might have put her here to take care of horses. But how on earth do you make a career out of that?

Yes, it might be easier for Lisa to finish school and get a regular job as a teacher, or nurse, or computer programmer, even though she shows no aptitude in these areas. According to conventional reasoning, this lack of aptitude should pose no real hindrance to her career choices because she’s young, she can apply herself, and probably grit her teeth and get through some kind of training program that qualifies her for a good job.

By doing so, she’d be doing what most people do when choosing a career, according to Gallup. It seems that our culture is focused on pinpointing weaknesses and overcoming them. But imagine what life would be like if we
focused more on our strengths and less on what we think we need to do in order to achieve job security.

Gallup suggests that it is much better to use your natural strengths and motivations to excel in a field that will recognize and reward you for what you do naturally and effortlessly is the shortest route to excellence…and our economy rewards excellence of any kind.

Horses are big business in certain parts of North America. And there are many people who make a very good living in that field, people who are not veterinarians. I provided Lisa with a list of resources to research the many different opportunities in the field.

As I mentioned above, she showed a flair for communicating and informing others through explaining. She likes to meet with others to discuss horse behavior. She may want to look at a role requiring these talents.

For example, there may be horse-related professional associations, or industry groups, and administrative organizations that employ Education Officers, Information Officers, Licensing Agents, and other people who have to explain complex issues and matters to members, insurance reps, inspectors, as well as the general public.

Career choices have consequences, and often involve trade-offs. In order to attain career mastery and job security, The Gallup Organization says you will need to understand your unique patterns. You will need to become an expert at finding, describing, applying, practicing and refining your
strengths.

Lisa has a bright future with horses ahead of her (or not), depending on the choices she makes now. It may not be easy for her to find her niche in the world of horses but it certainly is possible.

Gallup explains that individuals have the greatest opportunity for success doing what they do best, rather than focusing on areas where they start from scratch.

“We found that when people report that they have the opportunity to do what they do best, they are more likely to stay with their company.” This doesn’t mean, of course, that professionals should ignore their weaknesses completely. But it does mean that they can bring more value to organizations by learning how to identify and use their strengths.

In order to determine our best jobfit, each of us would benefit from a rigorous and in-depth analysis of stories about times in our lives when we are doing what we enjoy most and doing it well.

In a sense, you need to know if you are suited to “sell the boat” or “build the boat” or “sail the boat” or ³maintain the boat.² Even if you are a “boat builder,” then what kind of a boat builder are you? what is unique about you? what separates you from other boat builders?

I am happy to report that Lisa, who only a few years ago was failing high school, has started on scholarship a Bachelor of Science at a university that has a strong reputation for animal sciences.

“An unexamined life is not worth living,” goes the old saying from Socrates. The passage of time may have dulled the sharp edges of this profound and provocative statement but not it’s significance. Self-knowledge is the key to success. A rigorous and disciplined examination of your life, your goals
and your personal values will reap a huge bounty of riches.

Get Off the Bus and onto the Right Road for You

I have worked one-on-one with over 3000 individuals during the past 15 years.. And each one has their own story with unique elements. However, there are common themes too.

For example, many people end up in a misfit or in career pain because they get on the wrong bus. They realize the bus is headed somewhere they don’t want to go. The journey they are taking is not one they would have chosen if, when they got on the bus, they knew where they wanted to go.

Here are 5 kinds of bus rides I often see. Perhaps you’re riding one of these buses right now:

1. You hopped on the first bus that came along. You needed a job early in life to pay the bills, to establish independence, to get you started in life but you never got off. Now, you feel stuck. Your career has hit the glass ceiling. There is nowhere else to go with this job, this company, this profession. Or, you’re struggling with work-life balance, struggling with childcare or eldercare. Or, you feel constant pressure to upgrade your skills. Or, you are suffering burnout. Perhaps it’s time to get off the bus and find your own set of wheels before the bus crashes!

2. You followed the herd. Everyone in your family was taking this bus—military, business, medicine, teaching—so you jumped on board. Or, maybe your high school friends all went off to university, so you tagged along. Or, jobs opened up in a booming oil sector, or IT, or construction, so you stepped into this space because that’s where the jobs were. You took this bus because everyone else was doing it and you had no clear idea of what else to do. Now you’re tired of playing follow the leader. You want to find your own road, perhaps a road less traveled. You’re ready to explore other routes, or find a safe exit.

3. You bought a ticket in order to buy a job. This bus is going to Vegas. You’re on the road to riches. Your job sucks the life out of you but it pays a lot of money. But high-paying drudgery is still drudgery. Someday you’ll quit and get a job with meaning, with purpose, one that inspires and energizes you. Why not start now?

4. The bus you first took was the right one when you started out in your career. You learned certain skills, grew professionally and personally, paid off some debts and acquired some assets. You ponder the gap between your youthful ideals and your current realities. You wonder why you never transferred to another bus. So now you find yourself looking out the window and daydreaming . . . where do all those other roads go? What lies beyond those hills? It’s okay to dream again, to explore new options. Stay with the daydream…see where it takes you.

5. You’re up and out of your seat, time to get off the bus. Stop this thing and let me off! You live for the weekends and only come alive during a long vacation. You’re past the stimulation of the learning phase, you’ve mastered the ins and outs of the job, you have a financial cushion. Now you’re bored – painfully bored, and you watch the clock like a timekeeper at a sporting event. You’re ready to build your own business, ready to serve others, ready to find a more interesting job, ready to take the wheel and started driving your own dreams.

Life is way too short to spend riding around in circles on a bus going nowhere. What is needed is some clarity about WHERE to work and WHAT to do in terms of a job. Getting answers to these questions gives some direction on what to do next.

If you’re ready to make a plan to doing work you love in a very real way then start focusing on those times in your life when you were doing what you enjoyed most, when you got lost in it when you were truly absorbed by it, when an intensity came over you.

Then bring those events or activities to a session with me for analysis to see how they connect in very practical and real ways to answering WHERE and WHAT do I do next?