I know a lot of people who hate their jobs and for whom Monday mornings are faced with dread. I do feel very fortunate as I love the work that I do and I really do get excited on Monday mornings as I can get back to what I do. If I were independently wealthy and didn’t have to work, I would still do what I do! I realise what a privilege this is, but it has definitely not been that way throughout my working life and this is how I got here:
1 – Knowing my strengths
I’m not good at everything, but I am very good at some things. For the first few years of my career, most of my development focused on my weaknesses with the aim of turning me into a well-rounded individual. Most of the courses I went on (and the books I read) all focused on my weaknesses. I don’t think my experience is that unusual as I still see a lot of this going on today. I then went on yet another leadership course, but we started it by doing the StrengthsFinder assessment (which comes as part of the excellent StrengthsFinder 2.0 book by Tom Rath which includes a code to take the test on-line) and this was followed up with come coaching. Rather than focusing on weaknesses, StrengthsFinder suggests that you discover your strengths, develop them even further, and then find opportunities to apply them. This was a real revelation for me and gave me absolute clarity over what work I wanted to do.
I really believe that doing what you’re great at is the key to loving what you do and this set me on a journey (much longer that it needed to be) of further developing my strengths and finding work that plays to my strengths.
2 – Stopping and reflecting
Despite having clarity of what great work I could do, I managed to keep my head down and waste my time doing a job that I really didn’t enjoy until I suddenly had the opportunity to stop and reflect on how things were going. It wasn’t exactly in the way that I would choose as it involved having a motorbike accident on a race-track, spending some time in hospital, and having four operations to pin several broken bones. I can clearly remember my thoughts for the few hours after the accident; I had nobody else to blame and it happened while I was doing something that I love; I was just really, really annoyed at how I had wasted the previous year doing work that I didn’t enjoy.
Now, I’m not advocating a motorbike accident as the ideal way to stop and reflect but we can often get too busy doing things that we don’t make time to stop and reflect. The easier way for me to do this would have been to develop the habit of reflection, or to keep a journal, or to get some coaching, or to talk things over with friends.
3 – Seizing the opportunity
Knowing my strengths and having the opportunity to reflect on what I was doing really set me on the right track and I was able to make significant progress in the right direction. One of the most helpful things that happened was one that could also seem negative; being made redundant! Because I was really clear on where I wanted to get to, being made redundant was just the opportunity I needed to make a huge leap forwards. All that it required was looking at redundancy with the right perspective.
If you’re not yet doing work that you love, I would really encourage you to get really clear on what your strengths are, find opportunities to stop and reflect, and look for the opportunities in the challenges along the way.
There are some great resources from Michael Bungay Stanier on this topic, particularly in his Great Work interviews.
What are your experiences? What resources have you found useful? Please feel free to share this with others who might find this helpful and to share your experiences in the comments below.