Why do so many people end up in the wrong job? One big reason: they don’t articulate what they believe they “should” be doing.
But here’s the true story of someone who did ask for the job he most wanted—and got it!
Allen had worked for about 25 years for a large nonprofit organization doing social sector work in an extremely tumultuous part of the world. By the time he and his family came home to the States, they were completely burned out—physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
For a year they did nothing but rest. Which was hard to do. They had witnessed humans doing things to other humans that go beyond the unspeakable. For several months, they went through post-traumatic stress counseling to try and purge their minds and souls of the violence that had poisoned their memories.
That season of recuperation helped a lot. But eventually Allen had to find another job. He knew he didn’t want to go back to doing the kind of work he’d been doing before. But he didn’t know what sort of work he wanted to do.
The Search Begins
In that regard, Allen was like a lot of people who come my way. They are like the ancient philosopher Socrates, of whom it was said that he had a voice in his head that always told him what not to do, but never what to do. So it is today: people can easily tell me what they don’t want to do for work, but they feel clueless about what kind of work they should be doing.
I started with Allen where I always start: by figuring out what his giftedness is—his unique set of inborn core strengths and natural motivation that he instinctively uses on a consistent basis to do things that he finds satisfying and productive. Armed with that insight, I was in a position to suggest career options that would make sense for Allen in light of his unique, God-given wiring.
(As an aside, let me mention that bringing Allen’s giftedness to light in and of itself proved highly therapeutic to his exhausted spirit. It took him back to his essential core, back to the best of who he is, the place where he experiences his deepest sense of meaning and satisfaction. Giftedness is a potent antidote to grief, depression, anxiety, stress, disillusionment, fear, and many other debilitating emotions.)
I sent Allen off on a learning odyssey to explore some of the job possibilities we’d brainstormed. The search was slow. Nothing promising was showing up. I worried as to whether he would stay the course, half expecting that he would do what I’ve seen others do (to their peril), which is to settle, to just give up hope and take any old job because they stop believing that the “right” job is out there for them.
Probably eight months passed. Then one day Allen called and asked if I would meet with him. I was only too willing to do so. We arranged a time at a coffee shop, and when the appointed hour came, Allen walked in and began to report on his efforts to-date. It didn’t sound very encouraging.
“I talked with different people, just like you told me, Bill,” he began, and narrated me through several conversations he’d had with people in the various fields and jobs he was considering, to get information. One of those leads had looked like it might turn into a job offer. “But it would have meant a lot of travel,” Allen explained, “and I just couldn’t put my family—or myself—through that, especially right now.”
I agreed and told him he had probably made a wise decision.
A Job Offer
Then he told me about some conversations he had been having with Organization X, another nonprofit entity doing work somewhat related to the organization Allen had just been in. My heart kind of sank when I heard that, because it sounded like he might be settling by making a lateral move right back into some the same circumstances he had just emerged from.
“We talked back and forth over a period of about six weeks,” Allen said, “and then one day the hiring manager called me and offered me a job. Can you believe it?!” Allen’s eyes were lit up with tremendous energy, and I couldn’t tell whether he was excited or surprised. I also felt a pit in my stomach. Had he called this meeting to tell me he had taken the job?
“So what did you say?” I asked with some trepidation.
“Well, I took the description of the job and I compared it to my MAP®,” he replied (a MAP® is the summary report I furnish to my clients that describes their particular giftedness). “After I looked at my MAP®, I decided that the job didn’t fit me. So I turned it down.”
Now it was my turn to be surprised. Stunned, actually. I knew how desperate this man was to find work. I also knew that the economy was in bad shape, and that jobs of any kind were in short supply. Yet Allen had turned down a bona fide job offer—based primarily on what I had told him about his giftedness. I suddenly felt an awesome weight of responsibility, and swallowed hard. What was I supposed to say to him now?
Another Job Offer
I needn’t have worried about that, as Allen went on with his story. “I figured my prospects with Organization X were pretty much over. So I started looking elsewhere. But can you believe it, a month later the hiring manager called me back and said, ‘Hey, Allen, we really liked you, and we have this other job that we think you’d be good for.’ So they offered me a different job.”
While I tried not to show it, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. What a fantastic story! Now I could see where this was going. Allen had stood his ground, and obviously Organization X had offered him the second job. Now he was getting ready to thank me for helping him find that new job. I was smiling, and Allen was beaming. But he wasn’t saying anything.
So finally I asked him, “Well, what did you tell them?”
Allen had a twinkle in his eye as he said, “Well, I did the same thing as before. I took the job description and I took my MAP®, and I put them side by side and thought about how well they fit. I really wanted them to fit. But in the end, they just didn’t. So I turned down that job, too.”
Now I really felt sick! All kinds of voices were starting to howl in my head: “Way, to go, Bill, you’ve ruined this man’s prospects.” “Who do you think you are, Bill, telling people what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their lives? How arrogant!” “You’re so irresponsible! This guy bought what you told him, Bill, and look where it’s gotten him. Two job offers, and he’s walked away from both of them. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
I was waiting for Allen to ask me the inevitable question: “So what do you think I should do now?”
Instead, he again went on with his story. “After that I really figured that Organization X would never want to talk to me again.” I nodded, feeling like Allen was politely leaving out the words, “thanks to you!”
“So I decided to just go back to my old employer and see what they might have.” Again, I had the feeling Allen was about to tell me that he had settled for some inconsequential position with his previous organization. But at that point his tale took a surprising turn.
“What Have I Got to Lose?”
“I didn’t really want to go back there. I already knew they didn’t have what I was looking for. So I thought, what have I got to lose? I sat down with my MAP® and wrote out a paragraph describing the kind of job that I thought would really fit me. I sent that off in an e-mail to the hiring manager at Organization X.”
“Wow!” I responded, truly impressed that Allen had been so bold and straightforward—and especially delighted that he was trying to honor his giftedness.
“That’s where things got really interesting,” he continued with a slight chuckle. “The next morning I got an e-mail back from the hiring manager saying, ‘It’s amazing that you sent this. We’ve been talking for a while in-house about creating a position that sounds a lot like what you’re describing. Would you be interested in learning more about that?’ Well, of course I was.”
I don’t know whether I had my mouth open in disbelief, but I sure was on the edge of my seat to find out how this story was going to come out. “So what did you tell them?” I asked anxiously, hoping and praying he hadn’t told them no!
“Well, I haven’t told them anything yet,” he replied. “That’s why I wanted to meet with you.” He pulled out a piece of paper and held it up. “I’ve looked this over and checked it against my MAP®, and I think it fits me pretty well.” I could hear the hesitation in his voice. “But I wanted to see what you thought.”
Now I really felt the weight of responsibility, because now we were playing for keeps (as if we weren’t before)!
Allen handed me the description of the job and I read it over. I had brought a copy of his MAP® with me (I keep every person’s MAP® on file, and I also store them on-line so I can access them anytime, anywhere). I glanced back and forth between the two documents, commenting on the points of overlap. All in all, there was a significant convergence between the two, indicating good job-fit.
“Looks like a pretty good match, Allen,” I said.
“You think so?” he asked, just to make sure.
“I really do.” I reiterated the various points of connection between what Allen is wired to do and what the job seemed to be about and what it would take to do the job well, over time. “Congratulations!” I said with a smile. “Looks like you’ve found your next assignment.”
Operating In the Sweet Spot
Allen and I talked about ways he could fine-tune the fit, and I coached him on some questions he should ask the hiring manager, as well as some things he could tell Organization X to make sure they understood how to maximize his usefulness to them.
A few days later, Allen told me that Organization X had formally offered him the job, and he had accepted. I was thrilled beyond imagining!
Several months later, Allen left town for an on-site project related to his new position. While he was gone, I ran into his wife and asked her how she felt the new job was going. She was glowing in her enthusiasm and excitement for Allen and told me she hadn’t seen him so happy in years.
The next day, Allen’s wife followed up by sending me a photo that Allen had sent her from his travels. It showed him interacting with a colleague on the project. What immediately caught my attention was Allen’s eyes. They were alive with energy! They revealed a man totally engaged in his work, filled with confidence, and clearly operating in his sweet spot. That was all the proof I needed that Allen had made a wise choice in accepting this new assignment.
“It’s What I Do, Man!”
To my mind, Allen is a textbook case in what can happen when someone (a) has a clear understanding of what their giftedness is, (b) has translated that insight into a concise statement of what their ideal job ought to look like, and (c) tells that to people openly and forthrightly.
There’s a lot I could say about a and b. But it’s c—telling people who you are and what sort of work you’re looking for—that is why so many people have never found the job they really should be doing. Because they've never spoken up and owned what they are all about.
As it says in the New Testament: “You have not because you ask not.”
No one can read your mind. And no one can know your giftedness just by looking at you. You have to tell them who you are. That alone won’t get you the job. But you stand a much better chance of getting the job you really want by guiding a hiring manager toward your real, best usefulness.
Have you ever heard of Jackson Galaxy? He’s the host of a TV show called My Cat From Hell, in which he solves various problems that cat owners have with their cats. The promotional spot that advertises the program ends with a brief shot of Jackson sitting on a hillside overlooking Los Angeles. He looks right into the camera and says matter-of-factly, “I help cats, man! That’s what I do.”
I love that! I wish everyone could be as clear and straight and concise as Jackson Galaxy about how they add value in this world. “I solve computer problems, man! That’s what I do.” “I teach junior high kids, man! That’s what I do.” “I sell real estate, man! That’s what I do.” “I get husbands and wives to stop fighting and start talking to each other, man! That’s what I do.”
So what do you do? Please, for your benefit and ours: find out, and then start telling us!
Question: What do you most need to do right now: (a) get a clear understanding of your giftedness? (b) come up with a clear statement of the work that truly fits you? or (c) start telling people who you are and what sort of work you’re really looking for?
NEXT POST ON BillHendricks.net: Three Reasons Why Gap Years Are Great