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Embarking on a new career: How do we develop self-knowledge?


Sarah Brown, Guest Columnist

In my last article, I recommended that individuals embarking on a second career develop sufficient self-knowledge first that they not recreate previous misery in a new work pursuit.

Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Aristotle pondered this for quite awhile. How long did Buddha sit under his tree? How does a time-starved generation like ours begin to Know Ourselves?

I would like to propose two things we can do: Simplify the problem and simplify the process for addressing that problem.

First, let’s simplify the problem of knowing ourselves. I believe that we go a long way toward knowing ourselves simply by knowing what our interests are, what strengths we bring to the table, and finally, what we need in a work environment to feel understood. If you can answer these three questions about yourself, you will have a very good idea what will make you happy, successful, and understood.

The simplified process for answering these questions involves three steps that anyone can follow:

  1. KNOW. Take a little bit of information about yourself in your current work situation. For example, what interests you? What strengths are or are not being used?
  2. TEST it with someone who knows and cares about you. Why do we do this step?  Because we all have blind spots that someone who knows and cares about us can help us to see, and because it is a good idea to test proposed decisions to make sure we have considered all the possibilities. Think of this person as your career development coach.
  3. GO and do something with that knowledge. The point of the GO step is to make sure that your self-knowledge is practical and usable.  If it is, you can use it right away regardless of your work situation. We also know from research on adult learning, that individuals are more likely to retain that knowledge if they do something with what they are learning.

Easy, right? There is one small complication: That KNOW step we start with.  How do you get that little kernel of knowledge to start the whole process. It takes some thinking, but you can probably get close to what makes you happy by just thinking about it.

Try writing down what you love and what you do not like about your current job. Test it with your coach. It may be a little more difficult to figure out what your strengths are. I have often found that it works best to ask someone else. Ask your co-workers or your boss what your strengths are. If you ask your spouse or partner, you will likely hear a lot about what you are NOT good at. Just take the opposite as a starting point for your strengths. Go through the same testing process with your coach.

But what if I asked you, “What do you need from your boss to perform at your best?  How do you need to interact with co-workers?”

My experience has been that many people have trouble answering these questions, and even if they can, it takes them a long time to figure out how to apply the answers to improve their work situation.  We will explore this further in a later article.

So, there is no need to take extended time off from your current job to ponder this. In fact, I do not recommend that at all. Just find someone you can test ideas with and get started.

In the next article, we will look at some examples of how others have approached these questions.

Dr. Sarah E. Brown recently retired as a Managing Director of Accenture where she focused on talent management challenges for multinational corporations. She is now authoring a series of self-help books available at www.knowthyselfguides.com.

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