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The Rest of the Story: Interests, Personality, and Values
I've made an amazing discovery that unlocks the keys to making the best career decision possible. In my work with college students who choose a major and a little farther along decide to change it, sometimes multiple times, or with young professionals and mid-life career changers who are not happy in what they've chosen, I've realized that in the huge majority of cases, one of the key elements in making a good decision is not in sync with the choice they made. There are four important domains which must be explored to truly get in touch with who you are when deciding on a career: abilities, interests, personality, and values. In my last blog, we talked about abilities and aptitudes and now we'll learn the rest of the story.
So often it's tempting to choose a college major or a career path based on our strengths. Sounds good, right? We have to be strong in what we want to do. How smart is it to make a choice that is not based on our ability to do the work? That's pretty much understood, but unfortunately many choices are based primarily on strengths and that's not the whole picture. There are countless numbers of individuals whose alarm clocks go off in the morning and they hate to get out of bed. Why? Because they hate their jobs, and it's not just the job itself but the whole career field. In taking a deep dive into the reasons the work is not satisfying, in the huge majority of cases, it's because the career choice does not fit with who they are. "Do what you are" is harder to figure out than it seems on the surface.
Most of us spend more time at work than in any other role we play, whether that be with family, community, church, etc. There's nothing more deflating than having to do work we're not interested in for hours and hours each day. We often know what we're interested in doing, what we like to do, but translating that into a career is more difficult than it seems. Over the years, career theorists have developed tools to help in deciding the careers that most represent one's interests. One of my favorites is John Holland's person-environment fit idea. He felt strongly that there are six basic types of people and there are six basic work environments, so if we can identify our type, we can look at the careers in the corresponding work environment and explore those rather than trying to consider every occupation out of the hundreds that exist. Taking one of the many interest inventories available today is a good starting point to match interests with occupations, based on who we are. I've found that the Strong Interest Inventory is comprehensive and opens the door to exploration of the careers in which others who have similar interests are found. There are several other very helpful interest assessments that open many possibilities, but the key point is to make a choice that represents your interests at this point in your life. Interests can change over the course of our lives, and when they do, sometimes a career change or a new direction within a current career is in order.
To truly chart your path with intention and heart, your unique personality must be understood. You can undoubtably think of a teacher you had along the way who had the knowledge needed to teach the subject matter, an interest in teaching, but just the wrong personality. That teacher's personality may have been the leading reason the teacher was ineffective in helping you learn the material. Maybe the teacher was illogical and couldn't present the material in an organized manner, or maybe the teacher was a strong introvert and became quicky drained by the energy of the students, or maybe the teacher was so spontaneous that the focus of the lesson was easily lost during the class. This is just one example of how not every personality is suited to every career. It's important to explore your personality type and understand the careers that people with your type most enjoy. As a simple exercise that drives home the importance of choosing work that fits our personality and allows us to use our natural preferences in the way we work, do this: pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and put the pencil in the hand you do not write with. Write your entire name--first, middle, and last--and express the feeling you have. While your name could be written, in other words you could DO it, it probably felt uncomfortable, awkward, strange, etc. The same is true for our career choice. If we get into work that doesn't suit our personality, we can probably do the work, but we don't feel comfortable in it and know on some level that it is not the work that reflects who we are.
I use the Myers Briggs Type Instrument (MBTI) for a thorough exploration of one's personality. The Myers Briggs is the most popular personality assessment in the world and is used for multiple purposes, including marriage and family counseling, leadership development, organizational management, team development, etc. It's use as an instrument to help individuals choose careers based on their unique personality pattern is widely recognized. If we can choose work which allows us to use our preferred ways of doing things, we are often energized and find fulfillment by being allowed to do what we are!
The last of the four major domains we must explore to find the career that's the best fit for us is Values. Of the four major areas that need to be explored to make a good decision in choosing a career, I'm convinced that Values is the area most neglected. As I counsel individuals who are unhappy in their chosen path and know in their hearts that they're in the wrong field, it's not uncommon for their value system to be compromised by the work they are doing. Values instilled in us as children are often pretty stable, but it's not unusual as we grow and develop and move through life stages for values to shift and old ones to not be as prominent as they used to be and new ones to be of more importance. Often times we don't realize that it's a value that is eating away at us on an unconscious level and contributing to our lack of satisfaction at work. For example, consider the young professional who chose a college major that led to work that involved much travel. At first the travel was exciting and opened a world never before known to the individual. New people, new places, new customs, new environments were stimulating and enjoyable as the work was done. But over time, with marriage and the addition of a new family, the travel portion of the work became a major source of conflict and dissatisfaction making the job that was once perfect quite difficult and stressful because of its conflict with a value that assumed a role of greater importance. This is perhaps an oversimplified example of a value that conflicts with one's work, but it nevertheless illuminates the critical importance of choosing work that fits who we are in terms of our value system.
To explore values, I use a card sort developed by Richard Knowdell that resembles a small deck of cards. Each card has a value and a short description of that value. The cards are sorted into five columns that reflect the range of one's most important values to those of least importance. Once the strongest values are identified, a comparison with the values represented in the work one is engaged in or is thinking about doing is discussed. Often it becomes clearly apparent that one's strongest values are not allowed to be honored in the current work or that an idea about new work would be a good or a less than desirable choice based on values. It's vitally important to thoroughly explore our values in relation to work to make a choice that allows us to be in work that reflects who we are.
So, now you have it---the four key ingredients for your recipe of success in choosing a career or a job that will be rewarding, fulfilling, and that will unock your passion. Answering the burning question Who am I?? through a thorough explanation of your abilities, interests, personality, and values is the best way to approach your career decision making rather than looking at the hundreds of occupations from which to choose and picking the one you think might be best. However, although I said today's blog is the rest of the story, there a few other factors to consider that we'll discuss later, such as one's circumstances in terms of culture, support, financial obligations, etc. Stay tuned for my next blog because I'm going to invite you to participate and share your own ideas.