The funny thing is that on many occasions the person (often, the woman) I am asking the question to is a mid level executive in their thirties. A fully fledged adult in short, who should really know and understand her self by this stage in life. Yet - the answer I get is often a puzzled look followed by a rather embarassed "Why?'.
Can you see - why?
In all honesty, busy executives in their mid-thirties can be excused for not finding enough 'me' time to ask some pretty important questions about their life and career. This is true for both men and women, but let's face it, if you add a mix of childcare, home chores and general family and caring duties to an already busy work schedule you will be quite hard pushed to find any reflecting time whatsoever.
However, it is extraordinarily important that we all spend time exploring who we are (as we are work in progress after all!) to avoid misrepresenting ourselves, getting the wrong idea about why our jobs or our life are not going where they should and what we can do about it. The time we spend investigating who we really are, what matters to us, what we value and are deeply passionate and motivated by will undoubtedly help us make more informed decisions about our careers by providing us with a more complete and diverse picture of who we are and the opportunities open to us.
Which areas should we first investigate in our quest for greater self-understanding?
In general starting the process by gaining an overview of patterns, trends and common threads in your life can help you identify 'obvious' like and dislikes, mistakes and interests. By taking a deeper look at events in your life you may indeed be able to join a few dots!
After this introductory step, I offer you three further areas to examine:
#1 Focus on strengths, successes and relevant skills
Yes, a personal analysis of your strengths and weaknesses is always a good idea and should be done regularly, perhaps every six months or so. It should include not just 'work related stuff' but all relevant skills because, as I have quoted recently, you do need to take 'all of your self' to work as employers desperately need all of your qualities to succeed.
Reminding your self of your successes and most importantly understand what success means to you is equally important - especially to women who - as research shows - regularly underestimate their achievements. First of all, because in bad days it will give you the confidence you need to pull through. But secondly, because by understanding what success means to you, you will also appreciate what motivates you and kicks you out of bed in the morning!
#2 Identify what rocks your world...
This is about motivation and it is linked to #1 above. What drives you, what are you passionate about? Answering these questions with honesty will provide you with a strong indication of the things you realy enjoy and thrives on. But it is also about the situations and conditions in which you have felt at your best...those projects that have flown by, those hours you have worked uninterrupted, forgetting to even eat and drink as you were simply too immersed, too absorbed to notice. There is something about 'content', but also something about the colleagues you were surrounded by, the workspace, the feelings, the smells, the colours...
#3 Clarify what you stand for
This is REALLY important. It is about your values, your non-negotiable, critical guiding principles, the ones you are not prapared to compromise on. Values are about the way we lead our life and so have an immense bearing on our work. Very often conflict at work emerge when our values are not met or are only met to a very small extent. However, it may be a little naive to think that all our values can be met by one employer or within our workplace as values are strongly linked to our own culture and background as well the wider society/community in which we were brought up.
Please also bear in mind that values don't necessarily need to be only ethical/moral in approach. Indeed, honesty, integrity, friendship are values that most of us share and endorse. But one's values could also include doing plenty of physical exercise and taking long holidays. Ultimately, they are about what matters to you!
Spend some times investigating these three areas and you will find it becomes a lot easier to identify what is right for you in your work and in your life. As most soul-searching activities this may appear challenging at first, but ultimately it will deliver truly sustainable 'next steps' for your career and your life... And if a solitary jorney appears too daunting, that is where the support of a coach and mentor can truly help to lift the load.