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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

what can't you NOT do?

Steve at All Things Workplace makes a great point in his post about figuring out what career is right for you. He says to ask yourself: What are things you can't not do? Those are clues to a career you'll thrive in.

This resonated with me in a huge way, because I can see it at work in my own career. At the start of my working life, I couldn't stop myself from rewriting the company's form letters, publicity materials, even internal documents. It wasn't my job, but I literally couldn't not do it, to the point that I once found myself rewriting the office phone manual late one night. Sure enough, I soon found myself working as a staff writer at a different organization, and for the rest of my 20s, my career revolved around writing and editing. And my quality of life skyrocketed, because just like when I was sneaking those activities in at that first job, it didn't feel like work at all.

Later, I found myself increasingly unable to stop myself from becoming a thorn in the side of my manager until all manner of problems were addressed, from inefficient procedures to morale issues. I was spending more and more time thinking about how I'd restructure things if I were in charge and finding ways to get my ideas in front of my bosses ... who -- luckily for me -- were actually receptive and indulged me in this, rather than telling me to get back to what they had hired me to do. Eventually this moved me out of writing and into managing, and again, what I do now doesn't feel like work. Looking back at it, it feels inevitable -- as Steve wrote in his post, these were things I couldn't not do.

I've seen this at work in others too. One entry-level guy I worked with maniacally analyzed the cost-benefit ratio of every new project the organization took on, on his own initiative. After identifying enough cost-saving measures, he ended up getting moved into a position where his job was to do exactly that. A woman I used to work with used to always suggest ways to make a certain research series the company produced more user-friendly and engaging. She ended up in charge of it.

(It's worth noting you probably can't engage in this behavior without irritating some people. But if you're good at what you're doing, truly good managers and coworkers are going to see you as an opportunity, not an irritant.)

This isn't just about taking initiative. It's about the things you cannot help but do no matter what -- ways that your brain works, things that you will spend time on, even if it means working well into the night to fit it in.

Take a look at the things you can't keep yourself from getting involved in. It might point you to a far more satisfying job.


Evil HR Lady said...

Boy, this post made me think. What can I not stop doing (besides eating, of course)?

Wally Bock said...

This may have application to more than work. When I hit forty, I engaged a physician knowledgeable about diet and exercise to devise an eating and exercise regimen that I could use given my traveling lifestyle. At our first meeting, he asked me what foods I would eat even if they were forbidden in the program. That didn't take much thought: "Cheeseburger, ice cream and beer" I answered.

"Thanks," he said. "Those are in the program. Just pay attention to how much of them you eat."

The idea it seemed was to remove the irresistible temptation and take away the romance of cheating. It worked.

The Career Encourager said...

This is great advice - I hope your readers take it to heart. A wise mentor told me the same thing early on in my career and it is advice that has been very good to me.

Sandy said...

Excellent! That's the crossroads I'm at in facing a new career. What are my strengths, because I definitely have annoying strengths!

Plus, you can either invest your energy in creating mediocre weaknesses or you can instead work on pushing up your strengths.