What do you do exactly?

When I tell people what I do, I often get asked what career coaching is, understandably so, since it is a vague term. The main difference between the types of career coaching that someone can receive varies primary by where they fall on the spectrum of focus. On the narrow end of the spectrum, there is very tactical coaching that someone can receive, things like how to better speak in public, or how to have effective one-on-ones, or resolve conflict, etc. 

Most of my business comes from working with clients much higher up on the spectrum of focus. I primarily like to work with individuals that are asking fairly high-level question regarding their careers. Things like:

  • What should I be doing, or what was I meant to be doing?
  • What kind of job would be good for me?
  • What kind of work would make me happy?  

To address those questions I work with clients through the process of clarifying two important aspects of their professional identity: how they want to work, and the context in which they want do that work. I'll explain these assuming you're asking yourself those same high-level questions.

The How

The first step is to clarify How you want to work. Another way to think about this is trying to clarify, in your ideal world, what activities you're doing during a typical work day/week/month/year, and in what type of surrounding. This may seem obvious, but very few people actually go through this exercise. Most view their job as a single blob with some good and bad parts. What is immensely useful is to identify the good parts, because those highlight for you the activities that are life giving and energize you. I call these filters, since it allows you to filter any potential job opportunity through this list to determine, in a somewhat objective manner, if it will be a good fit.

Examples of filters include aspects like whether you'd rather work collaboratively or individually, prefer small or large teams, care about immediate or longer-term impact, enjoy speaking in public, building things versus conceptualizing them, etc.

It is very important to fully understand how you want to do your work, if you are going to unlock your full creative and energy potential.  

Simple Exercise

Identify some times in the last few weeks where you really enjoyed yourself, either at work or in your personal life, and write these down in a list. Next look over this list and ask yourself what each of these have in common, what activities you were doing, who were you doing them with, and how they made you feel. From these answers you can begin to extrapolate filters which will indicate to you How you enjoy working.

The Context

Once you've identified How you want to work, the next step is to identify the context in which you want to do that work. This concerns the domain that you are passionate about and want to apply your work to. This is where your interests come in, in other words what you're naturally thinking, reading, and getting excited about. Examples of domains could be law, technology, public service, the environment, urban planning, global warming, social justice issues, etc.

Imagine you're a software engineer, you love creating software, and your current company allows you to work in the exact manner that you prefer. Now let's say that same company builds firmware for paper shredders. It's entirely possible that you could feel unmotivated by work. You might enjoy How you do your work, but the context is all wrong, leaving you unfulfilled. You've always wanted to leave some mark on the world, to feel like you were making it a better place, and in that case shredders are just never going to do it for you.

Simple Exercise

Create a list of all the topics you find yourself most interested in. This can be from the books and articles you read, to the shows you watch, to the conversations you have with others, to what you find yourself thinking about on your own. Next look over this week and identify the ones that have been with you the longest, as these are the ones that are the deepest inside of you. Take that smaller set and create a prioritized list ranked by most interesting to least. Look over this prioritized list and focus on the top three or so, as these are likely examples of Context that you really care about and would enjoy working in.

It's important to identify both the How and the Context that's a good fit for you if you are to enjoy your work, and derive fulfillment from it. When I work with clients the goal is to help them get clarity around these two aspects of their careers, because the best great career match is one that is in a domain you are passionate about and doing work that aligns with how you are wired to do work. 

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