We can all agree that the year 2020 (and into 2021) has been and continues to be less than predictable. A common theme in conversations that I have had with friends and colleagues is their career transitions. While for many the global pandemic resulted in a forced career change, for others I think the reflection that resulted from such an emotional experience prompted a realignment of their career choice with their life purpose. Professionally, I have elected to change my career in 2020, as a result of my own personal reflection. As I prepare to move from a full-time clinical position to a full-time academic one, I thought I might share some of the resources that I use to know when to say “yes.”
Often times, when I am working with students they think, a confident “yes” takes a few minutes or at most a few weeks to come to. But in my experience a confident “yes” is the culmination of years spent getting to know yourself. Over the last two years, a few of my mentors, family and friends asked me, “What do YOU want, Erinne?” Most of the time I was so overwhelmed with my daily to-do list, I would give them a “Let me think about that” response. I didn’t mean to be evasive; I simply just didn’t know the answer. And worst of all, I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know. Eventually, I realized I needed to study something, and that something was myself. I decided to get to know myself personally, professionally, spiritually and relationally, in hopes of discovering what I wanted.
Like many students who are asked the same question, next, they wonder how? Here are a few journal prompts that I used to get to know myself better and dream bigger!
Strengths, Weaknesses, Likes and Dislikes
One of my long-time mentors, asked me to take a piece of paper and mark it into 4s. Then, for each one of the squares, write either strengths, weaknesses, likes or dislikes. For each of these words, I thought long and hard about how I would describe myself. For my strengths, I took Strengths Finder 2.0, one of Anne Duffy’s favorite exercises. Also, for my strengths and weaknesses I looked back on my DiSC profile, Myers Briggs results, leadership style inventories, and Enneagram tendencies. Collectively I jotted down everything that I could. Then I asked myself, “What do I like to do? What do I not like to do? What brings me joy?”
Throughout this journaling prompt I realized you can in fact be really good at something and hate it. Alternatively, you can love something and still have a few areas where you need to grow. The key is not to have a job where you use all of your strengths and none of your weaknesses. Or a job where you do all things that you love and none that you dislike. Honestly, that isn’t reality. But it is important for you to have a career where you spend most of your time doing what you love, whether or not you are a master at it yet.
Have you ever purchased a new car and then realized that that make and model are everywhere? Almost like your brain ignored that entire make and model for the last decade, but once you own one there are at least 20 in every parking lot.
“Often times, when I am working with students they think, a confident ‘yes’ takes a few minutes or at most a few weeks to come to. But in my experience a confident ‘yes’ is the culmination of years spent getting to know yourself.”
One evening, when I was talking about my hopes, dreams and career path, my dad asked me, “Erinne, I want you to write down your dream job description.” I looked at him with bewilderment. At the time I was VERY young in my career and probably had only read a handful of job descriptions in my lifetime. Day after day he kept asking me. Finally, I decided to go to every public health website that I knew and look at every available job description. For each description I only wrote down the role, activity or benefit if I thought “Oh, wow, that’s great!” At the end of the exercise, I had a list of about 14 “things” that would make up my dream job description. And I realized why he wanted me to do this activity. If I wasn’t thinking about what my dream job would look like, I would never be able to spot it. However, like that new car, once you are aware of it, you quickly see it everywhere.
Life-Giving and Life-Draining Activities
In the midst of my reflection and decision making in residency, my cousin sent me a podcast that she thought would help, “The Next Right Thing” with Emily P. Freeman. Many weeks, this podcast offers me 13 life-giving minutes of rest and reflection. But more importantly, it helps bring this weekly practice of decision making into my life, helping me curate my next right thing. While I have listened to EVERY episode, and a few of her audio books, I would love to draw your attention to Episode 3: Make the Most Important List. You might be thinking your grocery list is important, but in this episode Emily highlights making a list of life-giving and life-draining parts of your life. More than a typical pro/con list this helps you articulate what moments of your week bring you a life-giving energy, and which do not. Personally, I made this list using subcategories like personal, relational, career and spiritual activities. While there are some life-draining activities (taxes anyone?) that you can’t escape, you can choose a career that has you performing more activities that bring you that life-giving energy.
Life Purpose Statement
Lastly, after over a year and a half of reflection, my aunt and personal mentor asked me to do something she did in her early twenties, to write a life purpose statement. Like me, you might be thinking, “What is that?” A life purpose statement is a mission statement for your own life! Personally, I narrowed down my core values and passions into a statement that I can do for others, and this blog helped. (https://www.beliefnet.com/inspiration/articles/5-steps-for-writing-a-life-purpose-statement.aspx) After months of reflection and editing, my life purpose statement is “I am a pioneer who creates an equitable environment for learning, change and self-discovery by sprinkling kindness and passion in all spheres.” I can tell you why I chose every word of that statement, and each word is as important as the next. This statement alone doesn’t guide my decision, but it does help answer whether or not the opportunity you have in question fits into your life purpose.
If you are thinking about a career change or have been forced into one over the last year, I hope that you find the time to listen to your inner you and learn more about yourself. Have you ever heard a quote that you think about for months after you hear it? You might be at a park, waiting at a stop light or washing dishes, but you think about that quote that keeps popping up in your mind. A few months ago, a friend shared a quote like this with me, “A ‘yes’ to someone else is a ‘no’ to yourself.” I disagreed at the moment and didn’t know why. The context of the quote was definitely about setting boundaries and making sure that I was taking the right self-care precautions during the pandemic, but it wasn’t sitting right. And then I realized that the process I had walked through to get to my most recent “yes” helped me learn so much about myself, that when I finally gave someone my “yes,” it was not only a “yes” to someone else, but it was a “yes” to myself, too. Without a framework for understanding ourselves, we can rush into decision making without knowing who we are and our life purpose, and quickly our “yes” to others really is a “no” to ourselves. However, I encourage you today, to learn so much about yourself that when someone receives a “yes” from you, you can know with confidence that you are giving yourself a “yes,” too.