by Rich Visotcky
Remember when you were a kid and you knew exactly what you wanted to do? You were going to be an astronaut and fly among the stars with your trusty helmet on. No, you were going to be a police officer and keep everyone safe. Ah, what you were really going to be was an architect and build really, really tall buildings that reached into the clouds.
In my teens and thinking about college ahead, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. It wasn’t being an astronaut, a police officer, or an architect. Nope, I was lit up by something else. Conversations with my mom about work provided some interesting revelations. I saw management making all the calls, sometimes without a clue about whether what they requested was possible. I saw teams making up troubles and excuses to deal with these requests. There had to be a better way.
What got me moving was helping people connect their unique perspectives on a problem, bring the truth of the matter to light, and forging a new way forward together.
Problem is, that wasn’t really a job I knew existed.
The path forward
After college, I started work as a software development consultant. I honed my craft intensely, learning the ins and outs of languages and frameworks as much for work as for fun. I could take my skills and mold them to the problem at hand. Best of all, I got to ask questions, learn about systems, and reflect them back with new clarity to guide and align us on what to build next. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose weren’t yet a part of my vocabulary, but I got a healthy dose of them. It wasn’t hard to say: “I love my job!”
Starting out, we all have a passion to do something great and we attack it with wide eyes and a narrow view. Everything is possible, but what we know is so small that we look for ways to simply apply what we know and go from there. For some, this is the path forward. Life can be that simple, and the pursuit of what you know and are good at is motivating enough. For the rest of us, it leaves us with questions and hunger: “Hey, I’m pretty good at this part of my job. What more can I do with my skills?”
Making a shift
Over time I noticed that the technical solutions I helped to create only got us so far. What really seemed to be the key to our success was how well we communicated with each other. Collective code ownership, implementing and standing up for high standards of quality, and negotiation of needs with respect to the business at large were major factors. When they were absent, we got stuck in the mud. These people-based concerns seemed immensely challenging, and taking on that challenge felt like a really cool thing to work on. I started shifting my career to become a trainer and coach to work on that problem.
When you feel like there’s something else out there you could be doing that connects with you more, start laying out a plan to get to it. It’s not enough to say, “Yeah! I should go do that!” and leave it be. Chances are good the fears resulting in a lack of short-term stability will jolt you into keeping in place. Those feelings are good guides too, but what they’re really telling you is: “Hey buster, you gotta think this through a bit. We’ll get there, and we’ll need to take a leap at some point, but let’s have an idea what we’re leaping to first, m’kay?”
Re-finding your purpose and remembering “why”
As I started work as a coach, there were many times I found myself filled with doubt about the shift in my career. Most of that was due to the early stages of building up my skills, and the good fortune to be surrounded by people that were amazing coaches. Good as they were, and coaching me through my own development, my systems-thinking past looked at how they did what they did more than the help they provided. It occasionally left me feeling small and deficient. How could I ever live up to them? Would I ever be good at this?
Asking that last question was the key. Bringing focus back to helping people share their ideas, creating transparency, and using that information to adapt was all that mattered. And I was doing it in spades as a trainer and coach, reaching more people than ever before. Reconnecting with my purpose from all those years back shocked me, surprisingly enough.
It felt so simple. How did I not see it earlier? Blinded by the myopic focus on what I did, I lost the impact I could make in this world. An impact I felt drawn to long ago. This reminded me that I was still the same person, going after the same reason why, just in a new way. These new skills would take time to grow, and that reignited my need for mastery. The engine was hot again.
When you make a shift in your career, know that there will be some rough patches at first as you settle into the new norm. Kind of like a plane going through turbulence as it finds the jet stream. Or the parents of a newborn who are adjusting to life with another person so dependent on them. Just having that knowledge can be the warm blanket that surrounds you as you embark on a new journey. Having the fire of purpose to walk towards will help you with the transition all the better.
What I do today will probably not be what I’m doing years from now. More than likely I’ll go through some growing pains along the way. What I’m certain of though is that I’ll still be pursuing the same purpose.
What was the moment you found your sense of purpose at work? We’d love to hear your story! Tell us in the comments below!
Photos: The fantastic and free Gratisography