By Elisabeth Goodman, 22nd November 2021
I’m passionate about helping people to realise that they can have choice in what they do, and to discover or re-discover the resources to enable them to exercise that choice. For me it’s about getting clarity about what gives you meaning in your life, and then exploring and opening up the discussion with others about how you might make that happen.
I was particularly drawn, in this context, to this quote in “The Artist’s Way” – a book that encompasses a programme of self-development that I’m currently working my way through:
“What we really want to do is what are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.”Cameron, J. (2020, p.109)
and also this one:
“I have learned that the key to career resiliency is self-empowerment and choice”Cameron, J. (2020, p.137)
Two recent articles in Harvard Business Review build nicely on this theme, and are also very timely in the context of some of the conversations I have been having with clients in one-to-one coaching, in group-coaching style management courses, and even in some voluntary group mentoring I am doing with students through Form the Future.
Finding your life’s purpose
I discovered the WRKSHP Ikigai template a little while ago, and some of my coaching clients and indeed members of my family have found it to be a great framework for reflecting about their careers – how to get started, or how to review what they are doing when the current situation is not working for them.
You can start from any point on the canvas. What I really like is the fact that it encourages you to consider what you love doing and what you’re good at, with the intersection of these being your passion.
You don’t have to start with what you can be paid for, although that is there too.
I also love that it encourages you to consider what the world needs, although that can be as large or small a vision as you aspire to.
The various intersections between these four considerations give you your mission, your profession, your vocation, as well as your passion.
The intersection between all of these, at the centre, is the “ikigai”, a Japanese word meaning something like “your life’s purpose” or “that which gives your life meaning”, a reminder for me of Viktor Frankl’s (2004) insights on our search for meaning (Goodman 2020).
What to do if your career path is not living up to what you want from it
Clark, D. (2021) has a few more concrete tips for people who are feeling stuck in their careers.
She suggests that it’s a game of patience: to have a long term strategic view of what you are aspiring to, and not to get discouraged if you’re not getting there straight-away. That it’s common for progress to seem slow or patchy. To “notice the raindrops” that are all leading in the direction of your goal, and not to be too hasty to “shift the goal posts”.
As with many good Harvard Business Review articles, Clark suggests a five step process:
1. Do some research. Find other people who are doing what you would like to do, and get some facts or guidance on what you need to get there. How long it will take. Then define your own list of steps and check-points, so you can review how you are doing. For the people I work with in small biotech / life science companies, it might be a question of defining the knowledge and skills that you need for a particular job, and then setting about acquiring and finding opportunities to demonstrate them.
2. Find your motivating raindrops. This is about looking out for and celebrating the small steps, however small and slow, that are taking you towards your goal. That promotion might not be happening as fast as you would like, but you might be getting opportunities to demonstrate your potential, and positive feedback to reinforce it.
3. Make positive use of your relationships. Clark suggests that we might find ourselves trying to compare ourselves with and compete with people around us, whereas it’s important to contextualise their progress and take lessons from that: what they’ve done, and how long it’s taken them to get to that point. We can learn from how they got there, and we can also ask the people in our networks for advice, encouragement, guidance.
[We can work with the people in our networks even more collaboratively to help us achieve our goals, as Cross, R., Pryor, G. and Sylvester, D. (2021) describe – and as I summarise in the next section.]
4. Stick to your goals. Notice and value the progress you’ve made. Use this to reinforce your goals, rather than taking your progress for granted, or de-valuing it, and thinking you need to change your goals instead.
5. Be prepared to flex the details whilst sticking to the overall direction. Coming back to the Ikigai in the previous section: the chances are you will have more than one way to satisfy the criteria for doing what you love, what you’re good at, what you can get paid for and what the world needs. Quite how your career evolves in the context of all of that is unpredictable. But if you are conscious of your overall direction, then you will spot the opportunities that will help to get you there.
As Clark concludes:
“..to achieve the outcomes – and build the career – you want, you have to be willing to work the process. With strategic patience and small, methodical steps – taken today, tomorrow, and the day after – almost any goal is attainable.”Clark, D. (2021)
Making good use of the people in your networks
Cross, D. et al‘s article is pitched at people who want to achieve rapid success when starting in a new role, but their tips could equally apply to someone who is already in post and wanting to reboot their momentum towards their desired career. Or to someone who is just looking for a way to get started in their careers.
They carried out an analysis of more than 100 companies, and interviewed 160 people in them. They found that the people who transition most successfully and rapidly to new roles are the ones who build and use their networks most effectively, and who do so collaboratively.
Here are some observations from the article that might help you to accelerate your career:
1. Discover and connect with others who will help you to get things done. This will be an informal network that goes beyond your immediate colleagues, and will span other departments in your organisation. I would extend this idea to anyone in your network, whether you or they are in your place of work or not!
2. Build positive relationships by showing genuine interest in the members of this informal network. Ask them questions and listen to them to understand the nature of their work, how they think, their objectives and their needs. Look for commonalities with your own work (or plans for work), thinking style, objectives and needs. Show them that you value them, that you’re there to help them too and look opportunities to do so.
3. Be aware of your strengths, and of your gaps. You will never know and be able to do everything! Find out the essential competencies for what you want to do, and explore how others can help you to fill the gaps.
4. Develop your network for influence and for well-being. The authors’ suggestions are particularly geared to people in senior roles: identifying influencers who can help them to effect change, and also people who can help to energise and support them emotionally when the stresses and strains of the job start to show.
For people in non-senior roles (or not yet in roles they want to be), the equivalent contacts might be mentors: people who understand how things operate and the culture of the context you want to work in, and can provide advice and support for that. As the authors suggest, such people can also act as role models.
Whether you are currently in work, just at the beginning of your career, or embarking on a new path, take the time to re-assess what is important to you, what will bring you joy and fulfilment.
Reflecting on what is already happening may help you to realise some of the “raindrops” that are already taking you in the right direction.
Think about how you could involve the people in your formal and informal networks to help you adjust your strategy and/or give you guidance and support.
Consider working with a coach: to clarify what is important to you, what your ‘life’s purpose” might be, and how you could get there, be it a raindrop at a time!
Cameron, J. (2020). The Artist’s Way. A spiritual path to higher creativity. Souvenir Press.
Clark, D. (September – October, 2021) Feeling stuck or stymied? Now’s the time to your career with strategic patience. Harvard Business Review, pp. 143-147
Cross, D., Pryor, G. and Sylvester, D. (November – December, 2021). How to succeed quickly in a new role. Five ways to build a strategic network. Harvard Business Review, pp. 60-69.
Frankl, V. (2004). Man’s search for meaning. London, United Kingdom: Rider
Goodman, E. (9th November, 2020) Searching for meaning – a route to well-being. Retrieved from https://riverrhee.com/searching-for-meaning-a-route-to-well-being/
WRKSHP Ikigai canvas. Retrieved from https://wrkshp.tools/tools/ikigai-canvas