by Christy Pruitt-Haynes
What makes a person successful in their chosen career? To go a step further, how should people choose what they want to do professionally? Is there a magic formula to picking your perfect job? Since I’m not Houdini, I don’t think I believe in magic. So how are we supposed to figure out the answer to the proverbial question, “What do I want to be when I grow up”?
After changing my college major more times than I care to admit — and working at a few jobs that I absolutely hated — I came to realize that the answer is pretty simple: Your success arrives when your interests and your skills intersect. But what does that really mean? Before answering that, let me tell you a little bit about me.
The summer before my first year of college, I landed an enviable internship in the marketing department at the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company. I thought I had my entire career mapped out. My teenage arrogance kicked in, and I declared that I was going to be a Chief Marketing Officer by the time I was 30… then the first day of my internship came and I HATED it. Not being one to give up, I finished out the summer determined to make this work. It was, after all, the starting point of my career plan. Long story short, I still hated it.
How many of you have worked in a job that looks great on paper, but you dreaded going in every day? The people were nice, they paid you well, you had all of the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the job, but you still looked for any excuse to not go in. Chances are, since you disliked that job so much, you were never as good at as you should have been. You had the skills, but you couldn’t make yourself apply them.
From that experience I learned that people need to like the work they do in order to be great at their job. So, what did I like? No, what did I love? I loved to sing and dance in front of an audience. The thought of an audience clapping for me after a performance made me happy. So I set my sights on Broadway. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say no one wanted to hear me sing or see me dance, not even my mother. Turns out I was pretty bad… Who knew?
I loved the work so why wasn’t I successful? What activities make you smile when you do them? Have you tried to turn those into a career and, if so, how’d it work for you? Being passionate about an activity is vital. It keeps you engaged and makes you want to work your hardest. But interest without talent and skills is pointless when it comes to a career.
I knew I had to like what I was doing, and I knew I had to have a certain level of skill and talent to be successful, but how would I combine those two things? After a series of skill and interest inventories, conversations with those who knew me best and the acceptance of some tough truths, I settled on Human Resources and Organizational Development.
I haven’t looked back, not even once! My career progressed at an overwhelming speed, and I loved every minute (OK, almost every minute) of it. What does that mean to you? More importantly, what does that mean for the people you manage?
Every job isn’t for every person. Not all hobbies translate to careers, and not all skills will pay the bills. Just because someone isn’t successful in one job at an organization doesn’t mean they won’t be successful in another role at that same organization. And let’s not forget (thankfully for all of us), skills can be developed and enhanced. A tone-deaf person will probably never sing on Broadway, but a passionate manager can learn to communicate effectively with a diverse audience.
Back to the proverbial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Fortunately, it’s never too late to answer that. Let’s discuss where your skills and interests meet. Let’s figure out what your true interests are and brainstorm how to take your skill level up a notch to meet your interests.
As company leaders, think of that employee who is interested in marketing but working in finance. Do they have all the skills to transfer? Can we develop their abilities to the point of excellence? Share your personal and team member “intersection” stories that have made you a successful employee and leader.
Christy M. Pruitt-Haynes, SPHR, founder of CORE Consulting, is a facilitator, trainer, coach, catalyst, speaker and an expert in Human Resources and Organizational Development. A consultant and strategic partner with businesses, major corporations, universities, community groups, charitable organizations and independent professionals, she earned her Master of Science (M.S.) degree in Human Resources Development and holds a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Personnel and Labor Relations.
Find Christy on LinkedIn and Twitter @ChristysIdeas, or contact her at Christy@COREConsultingOnline.