A Journey into Self-Discovery

Written on the 27 March 2010 by Marshall Goldsmith

A Journey into Self-Discovery

Career Choices Are Life Choices

For the typical career professional, your daily pursuits are much more than just having a job and paying the bills. Remember the old adage about whether you "eat to live or live to eat"? We could easily compose a similar challenge about work: Do you "work to live or live to work"? Even based on the sheer number of hours we spend at work, this is an important consideration.

Assuming an eight-hour day and seven hours of sleep at night, approximately one-third of our waking hours are spent at work. For many professionals, especially physicians, this percentage is probably closer to one-half of their waking hours! That's a huge chunk of your life. This puts into perspective the significant impact our career choices can have on how we view our lives.

Understanding Culture and Language

Our language often betrays us. Notice that in the opening paragraph I used the word "spend," as in "the time I spend at work." This is how many people describe their work, and it doesn't sound like a highly satisfying pursuit!

This observation led me to create an exercise, which I have conducted with leaders regarding how they view their jobs. They are given three choices for assessing the content of their work. Please try this yourself. As I describe each of the three categories, estimate the percentage of your job that falls into each category.

The first category is "play." This is job content that is fun and what you would tend to do regardless of whether or not you were compensated for it. We have all seen people readily agree to do a task that was beyond the job description. Why? Because it was a task they viewed as fun, as an outlet for untapped creativity or a channel for self-actualization. If I tell myself, "I'm going to play," there is no resistance or creative avoidance. We all like to play.

The second category is "work." This is job content that is not play. It's work. This is activity that, although not fun, you would agree to do for reasonable compensation.

Illustration: My father was a mechanic and ran a DX gas station in Valley Station, Kentucky. He lived during a time when people might barter for goods if they didn't have the money to pay for them. A man asked my father, "I need my car repaired. Do you want to do it?" My father might reply, "No, I don't want to do it. I don't have any fun repairing cars. However, I will do it for reasonable compensation, say a 100 pounds of potatoes from your garden."

I can tell myself, "I'm going to work," and have a reasonably high level of commitment to follow through with this objective.

The third category is "misery." Job content in this category is not only not play, but there is no compensation imaginable to make it pleasurable. I tell myself, "I'm about to do something that I don't want to do and I'll be miserable doing it." I will be wonderfully creative in finding every reason to avoid that activity.

How do you see the composition of your professional experience concerning activities that are categorized as play, work, and misery? Here are the typical survey results among professionals:

  • 15 percent of what professionals do is considered play;
  • 75 percent of what professionals do is considered work;
  • 10 percent of what professionals do is considered misery.

Assessing Instinct and Life Choices

Life should be rampant with fun. I believe that one of your life goals should be to move yourself into more activities that are fun and away from activities that bring you misery. The initial step in toward fun is to identify those activities that constitute "play." To do so, first clarify your natural tendencies for interacting with your world in order to make better life choices.

There are personal assessments that promote this aspect of self-discovery. For example, completing the self-paced "Extended DISC" assessment can aid you in making better life and career choices as well as in determining how to be more effective in your current roles. Such an assessment can help you understand your intrinsic personality traits and behavioral tendencies that coalesce in the following categories:

  1. Results-oriented, take charge, make-it-happen
  2. People-focused, extroverted
  3. Loyal, task-focused, team-player
  4. Quality-focused, detail-oriented, organizer

Certain specialties may call for different aspects of these four personality dimensions. For example, an accountant may require more of the task/quality focus and attention to detail and procedure where a sales person may be more successful in the people-focus and extroverted category. A person who has differing natural tendencies may need to moderate behavior in order to work effectively in this specialty and be successful. This is not to suggest that someone with differing natural tendencies couldn't be successful in that role--only that adaptation may be necessary for professional effectiveness and personal satisfaction.

When you have to adapt yourself to fit a role, you may not be miserable, but it will likely be hard work. For this reason, it's best to choose roles that match your personality and behavioral styles.

When you are in a role that has some mismatches, plan for some conscious moderation to enhance working relationships and performance.

Understanding Your Mojo

There is another concept that can have significant impact on your day-to-day energy and performance. Also, it can promote a greater sense of "ownership" and job satisfaction.

Ask yourself: "Given a set of circumstances, how can I make the situation not only more palatable, but how can I transform it by my 'positive spirit'?" This is referred to as "mojo"--literally, a type of magic charm. For purposes of discussion, it can be regarded as "that positive spirit toward one's activities that originates from the inside and radiates to the outside."

Your mojo is not fixed or limited in quantity at birth such that "when it's gone, it's gone." It is renewable and each person governs how it gets renewed -- and it changes with different activities and circumstances over time.

The goal in renewing mojo is two-fold: First, choose activities that more naturally maximize it, and, second, generate as much of it as possible regardless of the activity. On the inside, high mojo results in personal excitement about the activity in which you are engaged at the moment. As it radiates to the outside, which it will, you will experience spreading positive energy to everyone around you.

What You Bring to Work

The first aspect investigates what you bring to a certain activity in personal or professional pursuits. This includes enthusiasm and energy, knowledge and "know-how", skills, confidence, genuineness, and authenticity. Obviously, you bring differing amounts of these attributes depending on the activity. For some activities, you might bring high amounts of several of these attributes, and for other activities you might bring lesser amounts.

What You Gain from Work

The second aspect deals with what a certain activity brings to you. An activity can bring both short-term and/or long-term returns. For the short-term, an activity can be stimulating and rewarding and promote personal happiness. In the long-term, an activity can provide meaning and help you to learn and grow. Overall, an activity can engender a sense that it was a valuable use of time, promoting feelings of gratefulness.

As with your inputs, the short- and long-term returns differ by activity. Some activities might have either a short- or long-term impact, whereas other activities may bring both short- and long-term impact.

Concluding Thoughts

Ideally your day is filled with activities that score high on most of the above inputs and returns. Over time, if you know which activities bring you happiness and meaning and which don't, the intent is to manage your life so that you do more of those activities which bring up your mojo and minimize or eliminate altogether those that don't.

But, life is not ideal. The reality is that we all have to do things we don't like some times. However, we're not stuck. Here are some quick suggestions for how you might engage, retain, or regain mojo, even while you're doing the most mundane activities.

  1. Validate that the activity must be done and/or must be done as you are currently doing it. If it is not a necessary task, stop it and focus on a high-mojo activity. Don't assume that just because it's being done that it's important and must continue. On the second point, if you have options for changing it to any degree, see the next suggestion.

  2. Brainstorm ideas for reframing or redefining the activity to more closely align it with what reflects your positive spirit. That might increase the short- and/or long-term returns. If you can simply add a little fun to the activity, the short-term stimulation might be worth it. If you can learn something new or find a deeper meaning in the process, then you've gained long-term value.

  3. Identify actions for enriching what you bring to the activity. Perhaps training or coaching would enhance your knowledge or skills. That, in turn, could build greater self-confidence. Increased confidence could drive enthusiasm and create energy.

  4. Rehearse expectations from the activity. Perhaps the activity, though not presently stimulating, is providing a long-term opportunity for growth. Conversely, an activity may not offer any long-term meaning, but, in the present, really brings happiness and stimulation. The attendant value of an activity, either in the short- or long-term, may not be obvious. Have a talk with yourself and deliberately focus on the value proposition for you.

Life is much too short to simply tolerate it. Continually pursue some aspect of self-discovery as we talked about earlier. Take responsibility for forging a new path that is a better fit with your personality make-up. If that seems unlikely, and that is the reality for most of us, then take responsibility for being more effective in your current situation.

As simple as it may sound, by increasing your effectiveness, you can elicit a more positive response from others. Finally, take action to discover and enhance your own happiness and meaning--through new pursuits, by reframing current activities, by extending what you bring to the situation, or by finding hidden value. In so doing, you will experience more positive associations with others and a richer, more satisfying life in general.

Extended DISC products, certification trainin, public and in-house workshops are available through Talent Tools.

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Author:Marshall Goldsmith