Career Path: You Won’t Know Until You Try
Does this sound familiar? “Follow your passion.” Common advice for managing your career path.
Fanciful platitudes bring out my inner skeptic.
You might also hear assurance you will never work a day in your life. Really? Sounds a lot like play to me. Which is the opposite of work.
This trite advice stings a little. As you squirm, maybe unwilling to admit it, you might think, “But I don’t know what I want.”
It’s OK. You’re fine.
The truth is most people don’t know what they want until they try something.
That’s why 80% of the people I interviewed for my book said they accepted the first job they could get once they finished school or training.
You know why? They needed to try something before they knew if they liked it. The ideal job did not manifest itself, as if answering the call of the magic wand.
The phrase should read, “Follow your passion. But first, take time to discover and define your passion.” We should all be alerted that finding your passion takes time. We can’t just go to the store and find it on the shelf.
The Career Path to Passion: Experience
According to Dr. Tina Seelig, best-selling author and professor at Stanford University, she suggests experiences lead to passions, not the other way around.
Karen Putz, in her book, Unwrapping Your Passion, outlines the steps necessary to uncover your passion. She recognizes it involves exploration, looking deep inside to understand what motivates you, and the discipline to learn something as a novice, rather than an experienced player.
If you’re hoping career inspiration strikes while you ponder the questions, “What is my passion? or “What do I want?,” think again. Inspiration happens when you jump into the deep end or tackle the next wave with an open mind and a learning attitude.
I learned career success is an accumulation of A/B tests of multiple roles before you select one as a favorite. Career fluency doesn’t appear by chance. It is earned by embracing experiences.
What is A/B Testing?
A common concept in the areas of statistics, research, and ad copy comparisons, an A/B test identifies content or strategies that have better results.
In career path navigation, A/B testing encourages you to compare and contrast experiences with the intention of making a choice that optimizes your interests and talents. A sequence of incremental tests will enable you to discover your passion and preferences.
When making career management decisions, consider the following after you have tested more than one role, either concurrently or in sequence:
- Do you prefer Job A, Job B, or Job C?
- Do you prefer your current position or the freelance job you have on the side?
Here are some open-ended questions to consider as you evaluate your job experiences:
- How did breakthroughs from the setbacks and failures of Job A and Job B influence your job choice and work strategy in Job C?
- Define your successes in Job A and Job B.
- How would you describe what you liked about Job A and Job B?
- What did you dislike about Job A and Job B?
- Highlight the skills you learned.
Use the answers from these questions to document your knowledge, likes, dislikes, and skills.
Let’s take a look at how to develop a testing mindset by looking back at a time when you may have tried something new earlier in your life.
Test and Measure on Your Career Path
Speaking of life’s “trying” moments, do you remember when you participated in your first sport? Childhood sports selection makes for an enlightening right of passage through the testing grounds of talents, attempts, successes, and failures.
Some of you may have spectacular memories of testing your abilities in baseball, softball, soccer, hockey, swimming, running, or volleyball. For others, the investigation of our talents in the sports arena may have resulted in angst-filled experiences before the integration of skills and confidence emerged.
Throughout the formative years of scrutinizing physical and mental abilities, questions like “What do I want?” “Is this right for me?” or “What do I like?” peppered our youthful brain chatter. These are important questions!
When I was in grade school, slow-pitch sixteen-inch softball was popular in my neighborhood. I tried it without much success. The pitch of a heavy hunk of leather hurled at my face caused me to swing too soon, too late, too high, or too low.
Because I was not a natural and did not smack the ball routinely, I did not run around the bases often. Making the effort to try the sport, however, allowed me to uncover upon my aptitude for speed and agility with other sports.
Activities like running, racquetball, swimming, and volleyball opened up avenues for genuine enjoyment and a lifetime flair for fitness. I redeemed myself by keeping my eye on the ball in activities outside the bases of the softball field. It was necessary to test my abilities across available athletic pursuits.
As a result of my experimentation, running and hiking are my go-to choices for exercise today, discovered in the process of A/B testing. The preferences acquired by a curious and brave experimenter, with an eye toward progress. Accented by a sprinkle of joy for good measure.
A/B Test Case Study: Susan Oh
Susan Oh spent her early childhood traveling from one home base to another as her father held multiple jobs within the oil industry. The locales broadened her worldview at an early age. She lived in South Korea, Iran, Canada, U.S, and Hong Kong. As a global citizen, she continues to travel to a great number of countries and cities, exploring the world and entertaining her curiosity.
She landed a job with the Canadian Broadcasting Company for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea – at the age of sixteen. This set up her first work experience, an early professional litmus test for A/B testing against future opportunities.
While Susan’s career path is a fascinating exploration, filled with learning and experimentation, I’ve broken down the narrative into a set of A/B tests. You can find the details of her story in Activate Your Agile Career: How Responding to Change Will Inspire Your Life’s Work.
- Job A: Sports Journalist CBC 1988 Olympics
- Job B: Print Journalism, Hong Kong
- Job C: Producer, live broadcast news, CNBC Asia
Each role represented a cumulative sharpening of her skills within various types of journalism. In some cases she reverted back to areas of journalism that most interested her; print journalism as an example.
Furthermore, she developed complementary skills, like communications and business strategy consulting for technology companies. Her knack for asking relevant questions and getting to the heart of a story sharpened her strengths in defining and solving business problems.
The following examples move beyond single comparisons of A and B tests to several letters of the alphabet!
- Job A: Back in print journalism for publications like Newsweek
- Job B – Z: back and forth through various jobs in journalism, on-air contributor, reporter, producer, film reviewer, technology copywriter, creative writer, book launch public relations, communications director, film producer, film journalist, voice-over work, social ventures
- Current: CEO of Artificial Intelligence Company – using blockchain technology, accomplished through her communications consulting work in technology and investor status in tech companies
And while this progression of tests distills Susan’s career path into a step-by-step journey, there were many decision crossroads, a case of burnout, and lots of questions. A logical part of the refining process. Test, measure, evolve, refine.
Finally, if you are interested in another story of an A/B tester on her career path, check out Carmen Hill’s case study.
It’s Your Turn
In conclusion, don’t sweat it if you don’t know what you want to do in life or if you have not yet discovered your passion. Each person has a unique timeline.
Explore and experiment with a series of A/B tests to discover your passion, while advancing in your brilliant career. Try new things.
You won’t know until you try.
Read more stories like Susan’s story in Activate Your Agile Career: How Responding to Change Will Inspire Your Life’s Work.
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