Follow your own star!    Dante Alighieri

Often, people select a career for all the wrong reasons and find their responses to the workplace are incompatible with their true values. This results in feelings of unrest and discontent and it is a struggle to remain engaged and productive.

Edgar Schein, one of the founders of the field of modern organisational psychology, suggests that every one of us has a particular orientation towards work and that we all approach our work with a certain set of priority and values. He calls this concept our ‘Career Anchors’.

If you are aware of your Career Anchors you can use them to make better career choices.  A career anchor is the one element in your self-concept that you will not give up, even in the face of difficult choices.

So what are Career Anchors?  A Career Anchor is a combination of perceived areas of competence, motives, and values relating to professional work choices.  A Career Anchor includes talents, motives, values and attitudes which give stability and direction to your career – it is your ‘motivator’ or ‘driver’.

Schein identified eight Career Anchor themes.  He showed that individuals have prioritised preferences for these themes and by understanding their preferences they can make more successful career choices.  He called the themes “anchors” because he found that people tend to stay anchored in a theme throughout their career.

So let’s have a look at the eight Career Anchor Themes.

Technical/functional competence -  This kind of person likes being good at something and will work to become a guru or expert.  They like to be challenged and then use their skills to meet the challenge, doing the job properly and better than almost anyone else

Managerial competence -  These people want to be managers. They like problem-solving and dealing with other people. They thrive on responsibility.

Autonomy/independence -  These people have a primary need to work under their own rules and ‘steam’. They avoid standards and prefer to work alone

Security/stability -  These people seek stability and continuity as a primary factor of their lives. They avoid risk and are generally ‘lifers’ in their job.

Entrepreneurial creativity -  These people like to invent things, be creative and most of all to run their own businesses. They differ from those who seek autonomy in that they will share the workload. They find ownership very important. They get easily bored Wealth, for them, is a sign of success

Service/dedication to a cause -  Service-orientated people are driven more by how they can help other people than by using their talents. They may work in public services or in areas such as human resources.

Pure challenge -  People driven by challenge seek constant stimulation and difficult problems that they can tackle. Such people will change jobs when the current one gets boring, and their career can be varied.

Lifestyle -  Those who are focused first on lifestyle look at their whole pattern of living. Rather than balance work and life, they are more likely to integrate the two. They may even take long periods of time off work in which to indulge in passions such as travelling.

Understanding your Career Anchors will help you plan your career in a way that is most satisfying to you.   By identifying and acknowledging your nchors you can make sure that you seek jobs that will bring you satisfaction and fulfilment.

To find out more and discover your own Career Anchors, click here to try this self-assessment from academic.wsc.edu

Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.  H. Jackson Browne

Finding a way to love your work doesn’t mean chucking in the day job, at least not as step 1 – and perhaps never.  Loving your work is about being really clear about what is important to you in the work you do...and then finding opportunities to experience more of those things that make you feel good. 

Sounds simple doesn’t it.  But how much time have you spent exloring what you're really good at?  Like most people I guess not a lot.  Sure, when you’ve applied for a job you’ve looked back through your achievements and listed your skills.  But have you really peeled away the layers to find the nub of why certain work activities feel good and others leave you cold or, worse, actually miserable?

When you start exploring, you could be surprised by what you discover.  For example, your work may depend on a high level of technical skill but you could also have a real talent for helping other people benefit from that skill.   Helping people could be a key strength - and one of your chief motivators. Rather than focusing on the application of the skill itself, more work satisfaction would come from finding new ways of helping people.

So, have you explored what you do best?

Our greatest satisfaction tends to come from doing what we do best – from playing to our strengths. It’s important to identify your strengths so that your life and work will be fulfilling and enjoyable.

Try this exercise:

  • Pick five significant people – at least two of whom know you in a work capacity - and ask each of them to tell you what they believe are your three greatest strengths. Give them time to think about it. Make a written note of what they tell you.

  • From these, pick three professional and three personal strengths that strike you as both true and enjoyable. For each of the three, provide an example from your life or work which demonstrates how you have used it successfully. Look for what was enjoyable and came easily to you.

Exploring what is important to you in your work is something you can start today.  See it as the foundation for a happy working life. 

"You will never find time for anything.  If you want time you must make it." Charles Buxton

I can't work out if it's my endless fascination with people's work choices or whether its just a reality of life that everyone is grappling with, but whenever I meet people having a drink or dinner or coffee, the conversation turns to the same topic: "I'm fed up with my job but I don't know what else to do."

Pondering on this I can see a common pattern of behaviour - and indeed one that I've experienced myself.  What happens is this;

choose a career...get good at it...enjoy it...take on new challenges...progress....get good income...get status and respect...stagnate...get cynical...get bored...want a change...wait for new career brainwave...it doesn't come...do nothing different...think of your pension...wait for retirement...THE END

Sound familiar?  Of course there are other reasons for sticking with what you know than not seeing your new career direction spelled out in six-foot high letters.  After all we're all resistant to change and enjoy being in our comfort zones.  But, so often what seems to be holding people back from getting out of a career they've had enough of is the lack of a "big idea."

But you know, the secret to a successful career change comes not from outside - but from within.  Research shows that those who are most satisfied and motivated by their work are in careers which reflect who they really are; careers which reflect their true nature and their real passions; careers which draw on their innate strengths and employ their favourite skills; careers which allow them to honour their deeply-held values.

Because of this, you can start YOUR career change right NOW   - by taking a long hard look at who you are.

I call this the "Explore" stage of career change and the aim is to create a richly coloured snapshot of who you are and what you need in order to be happy in your life and work.  You may think you already know yourself and don't need to do this homework but I'd be very surprised if the answer to your future career cannot be found by identifying that Dream Spot where what's really important to you and what you're really good at intersect.

So, take some pieces of paper and start exploring what you already have.  Here are a few questions to get you going:

Q: What is the greatest achievement of your life and why?
Q: When in your life were you at your most creative/committed/decisive/passionate/inspired?
Q: What are your professional and personal strengths?
Q: What excited you about your past/present jobs?
Q: What do you care deeply about?

Who you are is broader, deeper and richer than you think and what you have to offer in a new career may come from a surprising discovery.  So start your homework today...and enjoy exploring.

"It’s never too late to be who you might have been” George Eliot

Recently I’ve been spending time exploring ways to access those securely smothered career dreams that we all have but rarely acknowledge, except when dawdling over a glass of wine on holiday.  Then we feel relaxed enough to play the game of “what did you want to be when you grew up?”  When we head back to our “real” lives we sensibly file away those dreams, dismissing them as childish, unrealistic and not at all suitable for a sensible adult with responsibilities.

I have good news for you.  The truth is that you haven’t stopped growing yet.  It’s true that you have worked hard to create your place in the world, a place that feels comfortable and recognisable.  In fact so comfortable that you may think that it is a world that is impossible to leave.  Good News!  It isn’t.

How do I know?  Because many people are catapaulted out of their safe worlds every single day – by illness, by redundancy, by marriage breakdown, by disabling accidents and by the death of loved ones.  That’s when they learn that their safe world is just an illusion, that the rug can be pulled from under their feet at any time.  They feel that they've spent their whole life playing a game where they thought they knew the rules, only to see those rules smashed to the ground.

But, you know what?  Like many many other people have discovered, having your life fragment into pieces gives you the opportunity to re-build it in a new way, to create a new life – and yes, a better one.

So my message to you is that you CAN change your life but you need to choose to do so.  Don’t wait for a tragedy to force change upon you.  Instead see it as a playful project, where you can let go of assumptions about yourself and explore those hidden aspects of your character.

If you don’t believe me, I’d like you to try this one tiny step.  Think of a dream that you’ve had and never fulfilled – be it to play guitar, be an artist, write a book, sail a boat, live abroad or run your own business.  Open your computer and search for a tiny step that you could commit to right now to playfully explore that dream.  You could book on an evening class, start a blog, join a club, even just buy a book or subscribe to a magazine.

So dare to ignore that inner voice that tells you it’s unrealistic, invite your dreams out into the open, explore the real you and remember – you’re not a grown up yet.

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tsu,

All transitions begin with an ending.  Where your career is concerned, nothing will change until you step away and let go of old work patterns.  Yes, you might change jobs, but this will nearly always be achieved by relying on those skills and experiences which have served you for so long.  Nothing will change.

At some point, you have to make a choice; either scurry back to what you know or step over the precipice into a new existence.  And yes, it is scary. Our natural instinct and nurtured sense of survival is to create order out of chaos; to force new structure into our lives and to move purposefully from one existence to another. 

The recognition that you can choose to free yourself from your professional identity, shed it like a skin and emerge shining and new, is a process that creates both a tremendous amount of energy – and deep pools of anxiety.  The energy drives you forward to explore your values, strengths and desires to create a new vocation.  The anxiety holds you back – and will pull you under and imprison you in the “what is” rather than allowing you to emerge into a “what could be”.

As you yo-yo between these two states of mind your natural tendency will be to do something, anything that will introduce a new structure to the void that your career has become.  Most often this means scurrying back to the familiar, the proven and the recognised; donning once more the mantel of your professional identity. 

But, resisting personal growth incurs great psychological damage.  Living your life to meet others expectations rather than authentically searching out and following your own path is the number one regret recorded by palliative nurse Bronnie Ware in her interviews of the terminally ill (The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, 2012, Hay House, UK). Conversely, freeing yourself from a professional identity defined by others and allow the unfolding of your own truthful vocational adventure can bring immense satisfaction and serenity.

So, as you step into the unknown, be prepared for the traps - all the layers of fear that will hold you back, all those voices saying to that you cannot do what you believe in. Do not rush to create an answer just to silence those voices.  Instead, take steps to marshal your resources for a period of upheaval in your vocational life; find a mentor, meet with like-minded career shifters, use affirmations, visualisations and other sources of inspiration.   Instead of forcing a decision on yourself when the way forward is still obscure, focus on creating the positive energy needed to cope with the inner tension.  Relax into the uncertainty and celebrate the changes it will bring.

Dare you create a space in your life to see what emerges?

Is it inevitable that our self-identity becomes dependent on our professional identity? Why should this be and how does it come about?  Here are some thoughts:

Professional work provides status, identity and structure: some people are psychologically addicted to work because it gives them a status, identity and structure they can’t find elsewhere.

A profession provides you with a “safe” place in the worlda valued attribute, skill, or ability may  reassure us about who we actually are and where we stand in the wider world.”

A professional workplace provides you with social norms: an extended ‘apprenticeship’ period, ensures the professional internalises an extensive set of norms which over time becomes an integral part of their identity’.

Although your choice of career was perhaps simply a matching of certain aptitudes against tasks to be delivered, or even purely random or accidental - you were laying the foundation of your very identity, for your future self.

If you have doubts about this, take a look at your working peer group.  As yourself what values you have in common? what behaviours are expected? what ways of working are common amongst you? how do you dress? what jargon do you use? What is it exactly that make you "belong" in that group?

So, its no wonder that so many of us struggle to change direction in our working life.  Its not simply an issue of re-training and findng a different job, it's about re-discovering your true identity and creating a new place in the world.

“In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost” Dante

How important is your work to you?  Is it something that’s always been a great source of pride?  For many professionals, their career represents a massive investment of energy, hope and ambition.  They’re bright – and proud of their intellect.   After all, it’s tough even to get into their particular profession, let alone to succeed at it year after year. And they enjoy a certain status, even a mystique, because of their grasp and application of specialist knowledge.

But as an accountant, lawyer or other professional invests more and more effort into progressing their career – regular passing of exams, completion of training contracts, long hours, changing jobs and earning promotions – they risk creating something that is so psychologically valuable that it become an end in itself.  At some point their career starts to represent more than what they do – it became who they are.

Of course, they don’t realise that at the time.  It’s only when they start to question the value of their work that they end up facing a gargantuan knot of career as self-identity.  A terrible doubt can emerge; “if I strip away all my professional identity, will I disappear?”