Are You Making Career Decisions Harder Than They Need to Be?

sparkSome problems are really difficult to untangle. The complexity of global supply chains and ending sweatshop labor, for example. Or how to solve the problem of voter suppression. How to fund things that need funding while including the voices and opinions of the people we aim to “serve.”And it’s hard to know what’s “right” very often, as Courtney Martin wrote eloquently for OnBeing recently. And for those things we do know are right and just, it can be hard to align our actions with our values. We’re working within systems (or at the very least, with) systems that are not always just themselves. And so many systems we work in are hard to navigate. Plus, we’re working with other people who have their own, different ideas about what’s right or best or what should happen next.But that’s not what I want to talk about here. In light of all that’s difficult and dauntingly complex in our organizations and the world, I want to talk about what’s easy (or could be) in our own work and creative lives. Here are three questions to ask yourself to simplify things:Are you aligned with what you care about? a) Do you know what you want to do (and what you want to earn for your good work)? and b) What are the problems and opportunities you see right around you? In other words, do you have clarity on what you care about in the world, your community, and your organization or field? Forget “knowing yourself” because you’re always changing. What do you want?Are you aligned with your organization? Or even better, where might you find alignment in it? One of the most shocking things to me about “career development” is how much this field is swamped with talk about just getting ahead, with little to no talk about how individual goals line up (or don’t) with organizations. We don’t all have the privilege of working in jobs that give us flexibility or even opportunities for advancement, but IF we do – try to answer the question of where the organization has a gap and how you can help fill it or how you might add value to your organization or a particular project, even helping to guide it. (If people aren’t aware of the work you’re doing or can’t see beyond their bias of who is capable of doing great work, you may have to make your work more visible).Where do you find alignment in the larger context of the massive systems change we’re experiencing right now (social, economic, political)? Where do you fit in the larger scheme of things? This is a big question, so try getting at it in a roundabout way. What projects and organizations energize you? Who are your collaborators (whether or not you know them yet)?What I love about these questions is that you don’t have to work to answer them. Try not working. Try just answering them. Try letting these answers come easy.I had a trainer once who led me through an intense strength building session. I followed her directions, finished my sets, and reminded myself to breathe. Upon finishing my first round of combination exercises, my trainer said calmly, “Good… Again.” And then, “This time let it be easy.” Four words. Let it be easy. After all that hard work and taking myself so seriously, I burst out laughing. Yes, let it be easy! I did it again. And the strangest thing happened. My second round of exercises was much easier than my first even though I was more tired. My trainer’s words were helpful and ultimately, kind. Whenever I come upon what I think is a hard situation now, I ask, “Is it hard?” Then I try to let it be easy and work from that place of ease, which lets me just focus on the real work to be done. Kindness with myself allows me to more rigorous in my work, not less.In a culture that let’s face it, isn’t just or kind to women and huge portions of society, I am all too aware about how fundamentally unkind we are to ourselves. So take these four words with you as you try to “get ahead” – wherever it is you do. Look for gaps in your organization or field where you know you can contribute and contribute. Apply, rinse, repeat.Interested in thinking more about just how to go about making your unique contribution in your workplace or larger, complex systems? Join me this Thursday, November 13th for Leading Against the Tide: New Skills for New Times! We’ll be talking about this and more. Spread the word.