How I Found Professional Bliss: The Tale of the Innovator

Photo by Arturo Donate

Photo by Arturo Donate

It was three years ago. I'd been laid off by my start-up job, dumped by my boyfriend, and inspired to find my passion. I dug into my pockets, found the business card of a local yogi, and set out on a path of self-discovery.

Caveat: this was not my first time. Spoiler: the story ends with innovation.

Since graduating college (nay, setting out for college, or perhaps it was during my first career counseling session in high school ... I digress), I'd taken umpteen tests and moments of pause to find out just what I was meant to be doing as a professional.

But it was in this last go-around - post start-up and boyfriend - that I came across the key to my professional satisfaction: Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham. Yo, this guy changed my life. Here's what I did (a modification of an exercise touted by Buckingham as well as Oprah):

(You're chuckling right now, aren't you? Oprah? Suspend disbelief ...)

  1. I spent ten days (not actually working, mind you, though this activity can be done at work as well) walking around with a particular awareness of how I felt throughout the day. Was I upbeat, whistling perhaps? Or dragging and not as motivated to accomplish the task at hand?
  2. I marked on a piece of paper (had I already been an innovator, I would have used a sharpie and a sticky note) what I was doing when I was either (a) feeling energized (read: whistling) or (b) feeling draggy (read: groaning).
  3. After ten days, I looked for patterns. It became really clear what turns me on. Talking to strangers and hearing their stories. Making sense out of chaos using paradigms I've learned from different disciplines. Working when inspired. Discussing my findings with others.

I could do these things forever. I would do these things for free. (Here, Oprah offers me a free car.) I won't detail the activities that drain me, because Buckingham posits that they aren't important. They just aren't.

Armed, I went to my network of LinkedIn professionals and told them my list of energizing activities, or what Buckingham would call strengths. Within a few weeks, a former colleague pointed me towards one of her former colleagues who worked in design strategy - the art of intuiting human needs through enthnographic research and tying these insights towards innovative products and services. BOOM.

I'm lucky today to work in a strengths-based environment. My development advocate works with me each month to see where my strengths lie (sometimes I need a nudge from an outside voice to discover my latest and greatest superpower) and then we discuss how to weave it into my day-to-day work.

And that's been the key to my success. Charting simple activities. Sharing my strengths with those around me. Linking these strengths to my day-to-day activities. And continually revisiting and revising the list.

What's worked for you? Have you found your professional bliss?