Career "Independence"

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
-Mary Oliver, Summer Day, New and Selected Poems, 1992

Uncertain about your own prospects for new employment? In pursuit of career happiness?

This July, we are an anxious nation with collective concerns: for the third straight month, Gallup reports that concerns over the economy/jobs/recession occupy the “top spot” of most Americans' worry list.

Economic concerns aside, a key component to happiness is independence. A recent "World Happiness" study reveals a strong correlation between happiness and democracy. Study Director Ronald Ingelhart concludes, "Ultimately, the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to which people have free choice in how to live their lives."

In the spirit of Independence Day, how do we pursue career independence in an uncertain economy?

There's no definitive answer, but here is one solution based on a common theme: focus on your strengths in both your existing work and in your job search! Regardless of whether you choose to pursue a new work opportunity or renegotiate a current position based on your core competencies; you may find that focusing on enhancing your strengths gives you a greater feeling of independence, career satisfaction, and freedom than continually trying to rehabilitate each and everyone of your weaknesses. I don’t advocate that you give up trying to gain more experience or skills that help you improve upon areas of weakness, but I do believe that it is generally easier--and may be less time consuming--to focus more on what you do well!

Here are three tips to approach your work from this vantage point:

  • Isolate your strengths, and then develop a strategy to pursue new opportunities that allow you to leverage those strengths. Ask yourself what skills and experiences come easiest to you. Here’s a metaphor: If you write with your left hand, and you're in a job that feels as if you have to write with your right hand all day--you may be in the wrong position! (Alternatively, you may be able to work with your colleagues to redesign your position so that it plays more to your strengths.)
  • Need an outside opinion? Consider working with a career counselor or taking an external assessment to identify what skills come easiest to you. Access to an online version of one popular assessment, the Clifton StrengthsFinder, is included with the purchase of several books including StrengthsFinder 2.0, and How Full is Your Bucket?
  • Once you pinpoint what comes easiest to you, ask yourself, "Is my current situation one which could be made more enjoyable if aspects of the position were changed?" Develop strategies to utilize those skills more in your current work--and market them in your job search.

Here’s to our collective strengths!

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