Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Looking For Career Advice? How About First Defining Your Values and Strengths

This post is the first in a series on aligning work with one's values, strengths and traits.

Some economists and political pundits are opining that our economic recession is over. I heard that on Reuters last spring. I'm hearing that elsewhere today. I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it now for the following reasons:

* CNN tells us there are no job prospects for the man on the street, and that he's lucky to find contract positions without benefits.
* Bloomberg confirms this gloomy picture, reporting that national unemployment in September hit a 26-year high.
* That same Bloomberg article states that nationwide July 2009 foreclosures topped 300,000 for the sixth straight month, 50% higher than the number of foreclosures in July 2008.
* Another CNN article reports 650,000 consumed the last of their standard unemployment benefits in August and that the flood of people like them is just beginning.

What's a person in need of income to do? I challenge those looking for work to search for work aligned with their values, strengths, and personality traits.

There is ample material addressing the link between personal satisfaction and success on one hand, and personal values and strengths on the other. Books "What Color is Your Parachute" by Richard Bolles and "Do What You Are" by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron, talk about this relationship. Blogs Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk, and Start Being Your Best by Jason Barr do too.

But does linking values, strengths, and work in a golden triangle really lead to personal satisfaction and success, or is it just career planning propaganda? I wasn't sure, so I contacted friends, I asked my parents, and talked to total strangers about finding satisfaction and success by aligning their work with their values and strengths. I asked each of them questions like these:

1) How do your personal strengths, personal values, and current work compliment and align with each other?

2) How is this alignment different than how your personal values and strengths lined up with jobs you have held in the past? If the alignment is different, how has that difference impacted your success at each job and your personal contentment during that period?

3) How important to success and personal contentment is finding alignment among personal values, personal strengths, and work? If you think this is garbage, tell me why.

4) Anything else you think I should know about the relationship between values, strengths, and work?

Nearly everyone I asked said the following:

1) They believe that aligning their values, strengths, and work certainly leads to personal satisfaction and can lead to success,

2) their current work aligns better than their past work, largely by design,

3) that improved alignment has increased their personal satisfaction at work and outside of work, and

4) one can find alignment by choosing work that is not life-consuming and then pursuing one's passions outside of work.

I was struck by the variety of ways in which people sought alignment. For example, my Dad has purposely spent most of his career at small companies so that he can shape his working environment in a way that plays to his strengths and values. Another friend of mine engineered her alignment by pursuing graduate studies, teaching yoga, and spending her time in other stimulating ways that speak to her unique values and strengths.

My next post will address how I am trying to find alignment. Until then, how are you finding alignment? What do you think about the whole idea of aligning your work, values, and strengths as a way to find personal satisfaction and success? Leave your answers in the comment section.