In a prior post (De-Fragmenting Your Business), I introduced the imagery of fragmentation to describe how, over time, our professional identities can become cloudy and unclear. Ever feel like your career has been full of bits and pieces that don’t entirely make sense together? Yeah – that!
Have I been through this? Indeed! So…let’s use my pinball-like career history as a brief case study to illustrate the process of both fragmentation and (eventual) illumination…
First, I should say that I have held many jobs that had little to do with pursuit of a career direction – like many younger folks, I exchanged time and effort for a paycheck doing things like delivering newspapers, working a McDonald’s grill, cleaning bathrooms, bagging groceries, construction, and waiting on tables. I even worked in a plastics factory one summer. Now THAT was unfulfilling (and malodorous)!
Actually, the second summer I worked at a McDonald’s, so did the woman who would become my wife. So don’t despise any work, OK? :>}
My first real career job was in sales – specifically, high-tech radiation medicine equipment. I took that job for one simple reason – money. Turns out I was smart enough to learn the field and the equipment, and persistent enough to make sales. That job also began to bring out something that was nascent in my makeup – a talent for marketing and messaging. But I was an introvert, I was not highly confident, I was task-oriented more than people-oriented – really, I wasn’t much of a salesperson. I was not driven by numbers, had little of that killer instinct, and I had to learn how to become outgoing. I did earn trust, however, which can partially make up for a multitude of weaknesses. Eventually I started managing a small field force, but that also was not a strong suit. The whole sales/management role thing was like walking in a pair of shoes that never really fit. Been there?
Around the end of my 10 years there, the world wide web showed up. I was hooked. Without any guidance or mandate, I learned basic HTML and created the company’s first website. Instantaneous, global, visual communication? I was all-in! And I wanted to get deeper into that world for my next career step.
So, I learned that I could handle technical stuff, I enjoyed marketing, and I saw the potential for digital communications. Also, years before, I had gotten an initial taste of what personal strength/makeup assessment was all about. That continued to fascinate my analytical makeup.
The next position, with a software company servicing the pharmaceutical industry, allowed me to continue to get my geek on, and to grow more in the marketing arena. But my primary responsibility was still sales, and I did my best to create new business. However, partway into my 10-year tenure there, we hired a REAL salesperson, and as I watched her in action, I finally realized something – I’m not wired as a classic sales person at all. Hello, mis-matched role! Actually, turns out that I’m a problem-solver. I’m consultative. I like designing new solutions. And, in this job, I got to also taste software design, project management, corporate leadership, strategic alliance development, enterprise IT collaboration – all of which helped me to clarify what was, and wasn’t, in my DNA.
Social media began to dawn during the latter half of my time there, and once again, I saw the future. In some way not yet definable, I knew that a large shift was underway, and I needed to be part of it. And I was beginning to understand more of what my sweet spot truly was. I compulsively saw holes in the marketplace, and couldn’t stop thinking of creative new ways to solve business challenges.
I was a consultant-communicator-builder – who loved digital.
What was happening during these years was both a fragmentation (trying to perform in a variety of differing roles and titles) and a refinement (this I can do; that I cannot do; this I can do really well). My conclusion since then is that many of us can do 8-10 things adequately, but there are typically 1-2 (maybe 3) things that we truly love, and do exceptionally well. It took a long time to figure that out – in all the fragments of ore, our main job is to find our unique nuggets of gold and run with them.
It was my intention 6 years ago to build a company around my specific strengths and long-term vision, and to put aside the fragments that weren’t core. So, my current solopreneur job is designed around me. I consult, I build opportunity networks, and I’m a vendor/client matchmaker. And, in the process of working with a variety of vendors, I discovered something else that had been slowly simmering over my entire career – I am an intuitive identity analyst who can help people and companies discover their DNA and brand themselves. Now my sweet spot has become clear: assess purpose; distill message; define opportunities; connect with targeted others. Or, to put it another way – helping individuals and businesses de-fragment and gain clarity about their sweet spot!
It took a looooong time for that train to arrive at the station.
Lots of trial-and-error over many years got me to those four verbs (assess, distill, define, connect). Various roles and titles brought certain strengths to the surface, while also creating the discomfort of mis-matched capabilities. And many good friends along the way gave objective input to help gain a 20/20 view. I believe that some level of pinball-like experience is likely for most of us, but many individuals and businesses never seem to get to the point of sorting through the fragments and refining down to a clear roadmap. And addressing that problem is the passion that burns in my soul.
Why should any of us – individuals or businesses – settle for working at 30%, or 40%, or 50% of our true capacity? What is stopping us from finding our sweet spot and prospering there, instead of floundering elsewhere? I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to view the fog of fragmentation as one of the biggest threats to productivity in our entire economy. Too many great people are adrift in mis-matched roles, and too many companies are doing the wrong kinds of work. Maybe we can get that right first, then worry about six sigma and team-building exercises later!
So, that’s my story of fragmentation and gradual illumination. There’s a massive relief when you can distill down to the key verbs that reflect your strength, and also plug in the right coordinates into your professional GPS.
Do your career shoes fit yet? Do yourself a favor – get there quicker than I did!
Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!
Recent posts on Connection Agent:
>> Discovering Your Professional DNA
>> De-Fragmenting Your Business