STUCK. I felt totally stuck. There was no other way to describe it. I could see my feet grounded in things I loved to do yet it felt as if I was walking through the great molasses flood of 1919 in Boston. Energy, progress and achievement were so low I could barely move.
Up until that point, I had worked in numerous roles and departments within the organization for 10 years (minus two generous Canadian 12 month maternity leaves). My work focused on strategic projects to help connect our people to the overarching purpose, mission, vision, strategy and goals of the organization. I supported employees through change and transformation, of which there was no shortage, through the development of change methodologies and engagement strategies. I encouraged people to articulate their own “why”. However, at times, I felt that I couldn’t answer my own “why”. I wasn’t fully tapping into the best possible version of myself. I saw glimpses of it, but I wanted more of it. I realized that it was imperative for me to be deeply engaged in my work, to derive joy from it and to feel energized (not exhausted) by it. All of this was within my control – no one else’s.
What was the magic formula that helped me create a career that uniquely tapped into the best of what I had to offer? The first ingredients were courage and confidence. Once I realized I had nothing to lose and only the best of myself to gain, I carefully reflected on my values, strengths and the intersection of the two. The following activities helped to catapult me into the most fabulous career journey. I would invite you to try it for yourself. What do you have to gain?
1. Know what is important to you. Know your values, we say this a lot when it comes to decision making and life choices. In the book Dare to Lead by Brene Brown she shares that “values are the beliefs that are most important and dear to you, that help you find your way in the dark, that fill you with a feeling of purpose. …you should feel a deep resonance of self-identification.” And when articulating our values, she encourages us to “Resist holding on to words that resemble something you’ve been coached to be, words that have never felt true for you.”
External articulation and reflection of our values is more powerful than what we can do in our own beautiful heads. A great way to do this is to work through it with a coach. I also find a huge benefit in doing this visually: take post-its, select a laundry list of values that appeal to you, put them on the wall and see how they naturally group for you. This becomes a visual, tangible representation of what is truly important to you (your “why”) and will guide your future choices.
2. Know what you are wickedly good at. Know your strengths, again, another common activity, but trust me, it works. You can do this in numerous ways and there is no shortage of assessments to support you. I leveraged CliftonStrengths as I felt the overall message resonated: focus on what you are innately good at and be aware of what you’re not. Work with your strengths and invite them in. I also recommend working with a coach on this to act as a mirror for you. If you leverage CliftonStrengths there are certified coaches who can help you to leverage the assessment in very powerful ways.
3. Paint a picture of your values & strengths IN ACTION. This is where the magic happened for me. I learned about the fabulous concept of Flow State (as studied by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). This is described as the ultimate human state of mind where the challenge is equal to your skill, competency & capability. Think about the times in your work where you are totally focused, challenged, lose track of time, are fully energized (no matter the effort required) and you “geek out”. This is flow state. As they say in sports, you are “in the zone”. It’s been studied by neuroscientists and research has shown that in flow state our brains actually function differently.
The key here is to be aware of what flow state feels like. In flow state, you stop consciously editing or filtering your ideas and work, this is because your inner critic gets knocked offline to make space for the person in you that “just knows what to do next”. This allows you to take risks based on your strengths and values. You have a high level of concentration and you get lost in time and space. And, although incredibly challenging, you feel like the activity is effortless. Finally, you have a feeling of control which provides security and near relaxation (even if your energy is high).
Now that you get the sense of what flow state feels like… you can start uncovering what it looks like. Here are a few techniques that can help to unearth these precious activities and mindsets to tap into your full potential:
- Journal to open the door to your strengths & flow state:
- I feel I perform my best when…
- My unique abilities are…
- Others compliment me when I’m…
- I lose track of time and am energized when I…
- What’s important to me about these activities is …
- Identify when you feel flow state:
- Option A: Ground yourself with a few deep breaths. Close your eyes and envision times where you were totally rocking what you were doing, where you felt flow state.
- Option B: Over the coming weeks / months keep an energy log (similar to the Good Time Activity Journal worksheet from Design Your Life).
- Reflect on your flow state experiences (from above):
- What activities are you doing when you feel flow state?
- What skills / strengths / mindsets are being leveraged?
- Conversely, what are you good at that you don’t particularly enjoy?
- Journal to open the door to your strengths & flow state:
IN FLOW. This is the best way I could describe how I feel about my current career. I took time to articulate my values, strengths and flow state. I leveraged this to make a business case to use these dimensions more intentionally so that both I and the company could win. My current role as a Leadership Development Facilitator supported by my secondary roles as an internal Search Inside Yourself trainer, Mindfulness Ambassador, internal Erickson Coach, mentor and occasional Design Thinking Facilitator all feed my soul with energy, joy and commitment that no other set of roles has. It’s the first time in my 20 year career that I feel fully engaged, valued, utilized and empowered. I finally feel I can totally rock my job… all because I identified and acted on what was important to me.
What can you do to uncover the intersection of what is important to you and what you are innately good at? And, how might you be able to bring more of this into your life?
Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.