Embarking on a new career: Develop self-knowledge first

Sarah Brown
Guest Columnist

A Conference Board survey released in January 2010 found that only 45 percent of workers were happy at their jobs. A similar study by Gallup in 2013 suggested there has been no improvement, reporting that 63 percent were “not engaged.” Why?

I believe the answer is simple: Most people don’t know what will make them truly happy. They do not know what their real interests and passions are. They don’t know what they “need” in a work environment to feel totally comfortable. I believe one of the drivers for early retirements is just this: people are not fully happy in what they are currently doing. But if these same individuals do not uncover what they really want and need or what will make them successful in pursuing it, they are liable to repeat their current misery in their new pursuits.

After 37 years in corporate America, I quit. At the time, I was a managing director at Accenture. Yes, I loved my clients. I was very successful. My compensation was fantastic. But, I didn’t like that I was on the road 80 percent of the time, and something else was missing, too: I wasn’t happy.

Looking back on my career, there were only a few times when I was completely happy with my work. Of course, on paper it looked very impressive, with increasing responsibility and lots of promotions. Over these 37 years, there was seldom much conscious thought about what jobs and promotions I would accept. If the financial opportunities were very promising and my next role built on what I had already done, I accepted the offer. It seemed to all make sense.

I only started to truly understand and then consciously pursue my interests and passions when I went back to school in the 1990s to get my Ph.D. in the field of organization development. My focus was group psychology and adult learning.

I subsequently found that I was drawn to work in the talent management area. One of my projects took me to London for several years to create and implement a leadership development program for managers at a large multinational company. The program is now running in more than 100 countries and 20-plus languages. I learned firs-hand the power of implementing such training on a massive scale and the business benefit that results.

While there, I also saw the power of customization and of focusing on an individual’s strengths versus taking a cookie-cutter approach to education and skills development. We all learn differently and we each can build on what comes naturally to us.

I quit my corporate job to apply my strengths to the things I had learned I have passion for. But it had taken me 37 years to learn this about myself. What if I could shorten this process for others? What if this self-knowledge could empower people starting on second careers to avoid the mistakes from their past careers?

The system I created starts first with helping individuals develop self-knowledge about their passions, their strengths and their needs. It then enables an individual to take this self-knowledge and to apply it very easily to either improving a current job or finding a job that is specially tailored to him or her.

Over the next few weeks, I will share with you how you can develop this self- knowledge and apply it to being happy, successful, and understood in the workplace. Perhaps you have a great job, but you want to find joy in your daily routine, or maybe it is time to find a new career that will make you happy. Either way, over the course of the next few weeks, I will give you insights and ideas that will give you the tools you need to be Happy, Successful, and Understood at work. And I will interview others who have successfully done just this. 

Dr. Sarah E. Brown recently retired as a managing director of Accenture where she focused on talent management challenges for multinational corporations.  She is now authoring a series of self-help books available at www.knowthyselfguides.com.

(COMING FEB 3: How to learn about your interests and passions)

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