Create a career path aligned with your strengths, passions, and values.
Career development is a deeply personal journey for everyone. Throughout our careers, we often find ourselves asking:
- What skills do I need to become X?
- Do I want to continue working on this project or try something new?
- Should I continue on the individual contributor track or move to the management one?
These are all important questions that circle our professional growth. However, they can be so open-ended we often don’t know where to start. In these situations it is helpful to ground ourselves to our values and make sure that our careers are based on our strengths and passions.
This article will act as a guiding compass in finding the path to your next career opportunity, while keeping aligned with what makes you happy.
Uncovering your skills and values
It has been said before that by focusing on what we are already good at, we can become more effective and feel more fulfilled.
The diagram below might remind you of the Ikigai diagram, which is used to explore your purpose. I use the one I adapted to help me determine what I should do when thinking about any given topic, how much time to invest in it, or even if I should invest in it at all.
The diagram should also help you pinpoint areas which you are interested in, naturally gifted at, or already good at – the goal being to find the skills you possess that encapsulate all three. This is your superpower.
Finding your superpowers
Take some time to reflect on the skills that you feel confident about, skills that perhaps you have received recognition or compliments on, and write them down, no matter how small you think they are. Keep this list of abilities to hand. Not only will this help you focus on your strengths instead of your flaws, but it will be a handy tracking tool that you can use to showcase your value throughout your career.
After you have identified your strengths, rate how much you enjoy them. On occasions, we are good at something that we don’t necessarily enjoy or care about as much. If you notice this about a certain skill, re-evaluate how much time you really want to invest in it. On the contrary, if it is something that you keep coming back to that you’re talented in and excited about, note it down as an area you want to expand on.
To guide yourself on this, ask the below questions:
- What am I good at?
- From one to five, how much do I enjoy it?
- From one to five, how much do I care about it?
Tip: If you are struggling to come up with a list here, you can ask your teammates for feedback to help you identify things you are good at.
Once you have pinpointed your superpowers it’s time to nurture them. For instance, if you’re naturally gifted at public speaking or hosting meetings, pitch yourself to your line manager for opportunities to present to the wider company. If you are a talented mentor, elect yourself to coach and upskill a junior engineer. If you have an excellent technical eye, try and involve yourself in conversations about the wider technical strategy. Continue to learn about your skills by applying them and digesting different perspectives to your work.
Sharpening a skillset that has naturally been unearthed throughout your career or in your role is one thing, but what if you would like to learn about a superpower that currently isn’t in your arsenal?
Learning new things in our industry is often a given, whether that be a new coding language, database, or process. But there is a big difference between wanting to learn something and having to.
There are probably natural areas of interest you have identified that you would like to work on. What are they? Look back at Figure. 1 and spend some time thinking about the things which you would file under “I care about this” and “I enjoy this”.
- What things would I like to get better at?
- From one to five, how much do I care about this topic?
- Why do I want to learn about this?
These questions will help you to reveal more about your values and the reason behind wanting to learn a new skill. They might also help you steer away from situations in which you may feel obliged to learn something because of the influence certain people have on your career or your esteem.
Sometimes, inspiration doesn’t come from within, but from the people that surround you. Take a moment to think about the colleagues that you admire, this can be peers in any role. Ask yourself:
- What are the skills I admire in them?
- Why do I think these skills are important?
- What made me think about this person and skill in particular?
If you spot an opportunity and identify a colleague who you would like to learn from, ask them for mentoring. They’ll have the added benefit of business context to help you apply your newfound knowledge correctly.
If that avenue doesn’t prove to be as fruitful, think about other channels you could pursue.
As with anything, there will be tasks and skills you have to take on throughout your career that you don’t really align with. These elements are part and parcel of a lot of positions, but they don’t have to be clouded in dread and negativity.
Referring back to Fig. 1, cases where you enjoy things and find you are gifted at completing them may qualify you for being a great mentor.
Discerning where to focus those mentoring efforts can be tricky, especially as mentorship can take on many forms. There might be formal avenues you can explore at your company, and there may be more informal paths you can take.
As a team leader, you may be able to get a clearer picture of your reports’ career aspirations through team agreeance meetings. For instance, if the team is working collectively on a project, you can ask if anyone has any personal goals they would like to achieve while working on it. Don’t forget to reflect on how your expertise, alongside the wider team’s support, can nurture their growing skill.
Finally, there will be skills that you'll find you’re good at and that you care about – at least to some degree – but that you don’t find yourself enjoying. When this occurs, it’s time to delegate. This is one of the topics I have struggled with the most in my career. The fear of losing something is a hard emotion to navigate, but this reaction is normal. It just shows that you deeply care. And as people say: sharing is caring.
Understanding your team and identifying members whom you can delegate to is important. The following activity I’ve used can be helpful in pinpointing these individuals.
Make a list of all the day-to-day tasks you need to get done, from code reviews to running retros, breaking down tasks to driving technical decisions; track every task you can think of and ask your team to help you with this list. Once you have this list, ask everyone to rate how much they are interested in the topics, with any scale of your choosing. Then, delegate to the appropriate individuals.
There might be situations where no one in the team particularly enjoys a task, in those cases, sharing the responsibility (by rotating, for example) makes a lot of sense. Remember that this exercise is a collective effort, the point is to benefit everyone in the team.
Professional journeys are deeply personal. By identifying your strengths, nurturing your superpowers, seeking mentorship, and embracing delegation, you can craft a fulfilling career aligned with your principles.