Sunday, December 27, 2009

How I Found Alignment, and What it Taught Me

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

In my previous post, I suggested that aligning one's work with their personal values, strengths and personality traits is good career planning. I suggested this after respected friends and family members had told me that they found success in aligning their own work with these personal qualities. This post is about how I examined my own personal values, strengths and traits so that I could find work that aligns with them.

In August and September, I spent much time reading "What Color is Your Parachute" by Richard Bolles, and then going through the book's Flower Exercise. The Flower Exercise helped me understand my personal values, strengths, favorite personality traits, favorite subject matter, favorite working environment and preferred geographic areas in which to work. The exercise asked me to make lists for each of these factors and compare each item on a list to the other items until my list was ordered from most favored item to least favored or most prevalent item to least prevalent, depending on the list.

Completing the Flower Exercise was massively useful for several reasons:

Reason #1: I was surprised to discover I enjoy using certain skills and practice them often without noticing. For example, nearly every incident I deconstructed involved me 1) Organizing, Classifying, Systematizing and/or Prioritizing information, and 2) Deciding, Evaluating, Appraising, or Making Recommendations. I used these skills whether I was weighing where to take Mom and Dad for vacation, looking for an apartment in San Francisco, or researching business schools.

Reason #2: I easily found points of misalignment in my past career. My last two economic consulting jobs, and especially my last one in Los Angeles, featured client-oriented, fast-paced, deeply verbally abusive working environments. Defining my personality traits and favored working environment made it obvious that I do best in a gentler, slower environment where I don't have to deal with external clients. This was illuminating because I used to think that hard-driving, aggressive environments brought out the best in me by challenging me at every turn. I was wrong.

Reason #3: Writing down the results of my Flower Exercise really made me focus my search on jobs that would honor my values, strengths and traits. How could I ignore them anymore? I couldn't. I had written them down. And now that I had written them down, I was going to pay attention to them and find jobs that honored them. The Flower Exercise also provided the basis of a great sales pitch I could use in interviews.

Reason #4: Completing the exercise excited me. Writing down my results gave me a list of things to look for in a job. I was excited to find a job that offered these things because once I found that job, I knew I would be in a great environment where I could stretch my skills without breaking my psyche.

The bottom line is that the Flower Exercise was very useful in helping me discover and then define my skills, values, traits, favored subject matter, favored working environments and preferred geography. Defining these factors helped me explore career alternatives I would not previously have considered and focus my job search only on alternatives that honored these factors.

The end result has been great. And I'll explore that in a future post.

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