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.

Beating the Peter Principle

If you watch the popular TV comedy The Office, you may find it hard to believe that Michael Scott–branch manager of paper company Dunder Mifflin in Scranton, PA–was ever competent at anything!  He appears to have no talent whatsoever for managing others.

He is the embodiment of the Peter Principle, first formulated in a 1969 book of the same name,  by Dr. Laurence Peter, who famously said: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”  Employees will be promoted so long as they work competently; until they reach a position where they are no longer competent; and, there they stay, stuck, unable to earn further promotions.  Hello, Michael Scott!

In the real world of work, individuals are usually promoted because they are competent, and they are competent because they have a particular flair, or talent, or strength for performing certain job duties.  Their work is valued enough by their employers that they are often rewarded with a promotion to supervisory positions.

The Peter Principle then becomes active when a managerial position requires a set of skills that do not come easily or naturally to the person who has been promoted into it.

For example, I have worked with a good number of engineers who excelled at troubleshooting technical problems, especially when they were left alone to work in their own way at their own speed to analyze a particular problem and design a solution, often building the solution with special tools & equipment.

They are masters of the physical world of structures, machinery, and processes.  Then they are promoted into a managerial position where they are required to collaborate with others on committees and make decisions through long discussions at meetings that must be submitted up the hierarchy for approvals, involving frequent delays, postponements, or rejections.

In the meantime, they must resolve disputes between employees who disagree on how to proceed; or,  plan years in advance for potential scenarios; or, compete with their colleagues for scarce organizational resources; or, fight about money and budgets—none of which they have a genuine interest in or a knack for dealing with.

Why do they put up with it?  Perhaps, for the sake of a better compensation package, or the admiration of their peers, or the expectations of power, prestige, and status for someone their age; or, because, they don’t know what else to do.

What is true for engineers promoted to managers, is also true for front-line social service workers promoted to policy positions; or customer service reps promoted to supervisors; or teachers promoted to principals, and so on.  Often, I will hear from such people a desperate confession.  “I feel like an Impostor at work, pretending that I know what I’m doing.  I keep wondering when they’ll find out.  In the meantime, I try to fake it ‘til I make it, but I just dread Monday morning. “

This is a short term coping strategy that may backfire in the long term.  If someone is not motivated by their core job duties, their performance will degrade, so that when the inevitable downturns of an economy occur, they may be laid off when their performance is compared to others who are suited to managerial duties and feel motivated by their work.  Or, their level of job dissatisfaction fosters dis-ease that leads to physical illness, anxiety, depression, or any number of stress-related disorders.

Sure, we can learn managerial skills by taking courses; but, just because we know how to do something doesn’t mean we will do it.  For example, we can learn how to do conflict resolution because our job requires it. But if are natural inclination is to avoid conflicting situations or highly charged emotional encounters in favour of working alone on a task in a concentrated manner, then we will develop coping mechanisms to avoid using our newly acquired conflict resolution skills unless forced to do so.  Motivation is the key to performance on the job, whether we are managers, supervisors, or subordinates.

You don’t have live like an Impostor, pretending you are something you are not.  You can get a clear picture of your natural talents and motivations and learn how to leverage them into your career plans in a way that will recognize and reward you for what you do naturally and effortlessly, rather than for what you have to do in a job misfit.

Here at JobJoy, we are in the business of mapping your motivational pattern and matching it with the work you are best suited to do so that you can excel in your right work.

Do our brains want to work or win lotteries?

Do you work hard for your money?  If, yes, then you get more satisfaction from your cash than Paris Hilton!

I know it’s hard to believe but researchers who study the pleasure center of the brain say that lottery winners, trust-fund babies like Paris, and others who get their money without working for it, do not get as much satisfaction from their cash as those who earn it.

Other studies have shown that people who win the lottery are not happier a year after they win the lottery. And the number of winners who keep their jobs is growing (and so is the number of academics studying lottery winners).

Psychological and behavioral scientists have clearly shown that people get a great deal of satisfaction out of the work they do. The brains of those who work for their money are more stimulated.  Ray Crist is living proof!

I’ll never forget the radio story I heard a few years ago about Crist, a chemist who finally stopped working at age 104.  (The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t even collect data on workers older than 90!)

Why would you stop doing something you love? For the last two decades of his life, Crist went to work 5 days a week from 8am to 5pm in a research laboratory where he worked on experiments to use plants to remove toxic metals from water, a labor of love that resulted in 20+ published articles.  He didn’t do it for the money (in fact, he donated his salary).

“I’m just a working laboratory person. And I don’t exactly call it work because I’m just living,” said Crist.

His story and the studies both suggest that the brain is wired this way by nature.  Our brains did not evolve in order to sit on the couch and have things fall in our laps.

We are wired for work, that is to expend effort to pursue worthy goals. Crist did not save the world from toxic chemicals; few scientists see the full realization of their goals during their lifetimes.

What keeps them going, what gives them the drive and passion to get up every day and go to the lab is not money but the vision they have in mind.  They can see their destination.  It is a goal worthy of the deepest values and highest aspirations.

It is good to have an end to the journey but, as Crist’s life and work clearly demonstrates, it is the journey that matters most.

While money is necessary for the journey, it is not the purpose of the journey.

Ray Crist retired at age 104.  He died not long after retirement.  He was 105 years, 4 months and 15 days old.

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.