You know how some people really like trains, and other people geek out about stamps, coins and the like? I geek out about careers. Seriously, I find it immensely satisfying when I see someone in the right job, someone who is thriving a working at their best. To me, it is poetic or like a perfectly fitted bookshelf. It’s just “right.” Conversely, I get annoyed when people are working in the wrong job, or too slow/too fast for their optimum pace, it feels wasteful or inefficient.
perfectly stacked book shelves
Of course, this means that as a work psychologist I am myself in the right job! I genuinely get a kick out of working out which environment will suit someone best, the task at which they will excel. I’ve hired coaches with no experience and trained them because I could see potential, I’ve persuaded an old friend who was an anarchic punk to join the police (20 years and several awards later….) and I’ve encouraged a lot of high flying corporate careerists towards entrepreneurial aspirations.
One of the reasons I have specialized in neurodiversity is because I can see the obvious careers that go with the “peaks” of a spiky profile. I love how high visual-spatial reasoning, for example, links to surgery, logistics, driving, construction, physiotherapy, beauty and I love connecting people’s individual skill profile to their ambition. I don’t always get it right, some people I am stuck on. But when I “know”, I am rarely wrong. So what is it that I perceive when it is just “right?”
Following Your Dream
The first thing notice is when someone has picked the right topic. If it’s going to be your genius, it needs to be your passion. I’ll spot a shift in tempo when someone starts talking. The pace, tone of the voice raises and the eyes widen. They sit up straight. They’re talking about something that matters to them. This happened recently when I was doing a video session with a young man in Florida. He wanted to know his ‘genius within’ and, as a 23 year old with autism and ADHD working in a local car wash, he wanted some direction before he put in the effort for college or vocational training. He was considering graphic design, or video editing. I could see from his psych report that he had the right neurocognitive profile for those roles, but his voice was flat and monotone. I took him away from talking work and asked him what he enjoyed. He started showing me paintings, sculptures and drawings that he had done. They were really good! I asked him why he didn’t want to be an artist and he burst into tears! He said “I didn’t know that was something I was allowed to want.”
At that exact moment, a friend was painting my new hallway, a friend who sells oil paintings and decorates houses. I told the young man that careers can be blended, and he can find something related that will build his skills while he develops his identity and personality as an artist. This released him – he’s now training to be a welder, developing his sculpture and he has sold 3 paintings!
CHELYABINSK REGION, RUSSIA – JULY 24, 2019: Finishing a cast-iron product at Kasli Fine Art Foundry … [+]
This story leads me to the second component of finding your genius within – working flexibly. Very few of us these days take a traditional route of college, being employed straight from college into a “up the career ladder” scenario with promotions. Many of us now make it work with portfolio careers, transferable skills and blending roles. This is advantageous for creative types – we can move before we get bored without seeming unreliable and there’s less pressure to get the choice right first time. My first job was in health and social care, providing personal support for people with disabilities. From that to an office job recruiting care workers and training them (whilst doing my bachelor’s) which sparked an interest in occupational and organizational psychology. I ran businesses in recruitment while I got my masters, learning the language of sales and management. Once qualified and after years of self-employed gigging as a management consultant, self-employed psychologist assessor and coach, I found my niche in neurodiversity employment. The values and beliefs I developed about inclusivity and understanding the impact of environment on well-being track right back to health and social care, nothing is wasted in a portfolio career. My geekiness about seeing people in their personal limelight is perfectly placed in the neurodiversity movement, I found my own sweet spot.
When people shift career gears, there’s sometimes a pay cut. I know may people in middle age, on advanced career trajectories who give up the rat race to play to their passion. An ex-investor who retrained as a plumber in order to spend more time at home. A commercial director who bought a farm to build an inclusive community to provide respite to families with disabled children. An advertising exec downsized to work in a small business that matched her values. Often, however, the pay cut is temporary. You are likely to find that all that money-making corporate know how, applied to a different industry, is your golden ticket and that you can work less or earn more. I have many employees and associates who are semi-retired – I call it the pyramid career. Instead of steadily climbing to the top of the ladder and then falling off the top, they ascended and are now slowly stepping down the other side. They bring wisdom and experience from a range of industries, maturity and share willingly in return for reduced, flexible hours.
Employees at work inside the corporate headquarters of Motley Fool in Alexandria, VA. The multimedia … [+]
Finding Your Spark
If you haven’t found your dream yet, keep an ear out for “the spark” – notice when you start talking excitedly about something, when you can stay on topic without trying. What career stories make you feel slightly envious? Notice what you do well without trying, what you remember without meaning too, which stories you tell over and over. You can also think about it “upside down” – rather than starting with the identity, start with the environment. Where do you like to be? Inside? Outside? Moving or still? Talking or quiet? With people or alone? This will help you narrow down the right context for you to work at your best, which then points to different roles.
Find Your Role Models
If you know what you want to do, but can’t work out how to make it feasible, interview people! Seek out people who are currently doing what you want to do, and ask them how they got there. Literally, google jobs, people and make contact via social media or call them if you can. Some will ignore you but others may find it cathartic to chat, and may provide you with useful leads. I do this all the time and have hired trainee psychologists who contacted me cold and asked for shadowing opportunities.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 12: Two-time World Cup Champion, and co-captain of the US Women’s … [+]
Getty Images for Massachusetts Conference for Women 2019
This New Years, make yourself a vision board will all these ideas, tasks, obstacles and talk it though with a few different people. Find your genius within. The world can only benefit from you working at the power of your full potential.