When you’re feeling lost or stuck mid-career, it can be so difficult to take time to explore options. When you finally find the time, it can be hard to know where to start.
There are four areas I ask my clients to explore in their work lives: values, skills, personality and interests. This list grows out of my time working in university career centers, and I’ve seen it work time and again with mid-career workers in my private practice as well.
I recommend my clients start with the area they suspect they need the most help clarifying. For most, that’s their values. It’s hard to define your work values out of thin air. If you asked me point-blank to tell you what I believe about work, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with something, and I’m a career coach.
To make headway fast, try creating a career family tree. Just as you would research your family history, you’re going to create a family diagram of the work that runs in your family. You can even start with one of the many free family tree templates available online.
Step 1: List People and their Jobs
Create a map of people who are important to you. Unlike traditional family trees, this can extend beyond blood relatives to friends, mentors or even leaders who you respect.
Chart them out as you would a regular family tree. Draw in the lines to your parents, grandparents, siblings and so on, extending away from you.
List what they did for work, and also try to jot down anything you know about their philosophy of work. Did they dream of doing something else for work? If so, list that, too.
Step 2: What Did They Believe about Work?
Now go back and layer in what people believed about their work. Why did they choose their particular careers? What is important in life, and how does work fit into that picture?
These are big questions, true, but as you start to gather your information, keep thinking about your own values. How are you like your father? Are you growing more like him as you advance in your career?
Step 3: Identify Themes
Start looking for themes running through your family and friends. Does everyone work with their hands, or in medicine? How are you the same or different?
This is a great time to start journaling. Take a half hour to sketch out your reactions on paper. Some of my clients even create doodles or other art to go with their journals.
This can be a productive way to get at your values, but be aware that it can dig up some pretty strong feelings. Don’t be afraid to reach out to talk with someone you trust about what you uncover.
Working through this exercise can uncover so much about what motivates you in work.
My grandmother, for instance, used to send me newspaper clippings of things she thought would help me in life, and now when I work with clients I send them links to resources.
I always have considered information more than just sterile facts. Passing along information is a way to show you care, and sharing the right information at the right time can work miracles.
I hope this little bit of information helps you get moving in the right direction!
Next, I’ll look at how to analyzing your skills to help you explore your options.
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