Change Your Mind – the impact of Positive Psychology on Career Goals

I attended a presentation this week by Kim Edwards, a PhD candidate in the Department of Clinical Psychology.  It was one of those presentations that sticks with you for the rest of your life.  The concepts with respect to positive psychology are really quite simple.  We just need to “change our minds”

When thinking about career goals and career development, far too often we focus on our areas of weakness.  What we need to improve upon. What went wrong in a situation. What we didn’t do well.  What positive psychology seeks to do is change the way we think about ourselves.  Instead of focussing on what we aren’t good at, we should focus on what we are good at.  Simple right?

In her presentation Kim asked us, “If your child came home with a report card that had “A, A, C, F” what grade would deserve our greatest attention”.  As much as I wanted to say, given the topic of the presentation, that I would give the most attention to the “A”, in reality, I know that I would be focussed on the F.

So when you get your grades for your first term courses and you see an A, A, B and an F.  What will you do? Probably, like me, focus on the F and then lie awake at night worrying about how that is going to effect your overall average, your application to grad school, the rest of your life. . . Essentially, your career is now over before it even began.

It is not to say that we should ignore our short-comings, but rather, we need to focus on our strengths and try to moderate the areas where we are not as strong.

When we look at our potential in a work environment, the vast majority of  people think that their greatest capacity for growth is in the areas that they are weakest.  The reality is, however, that our greatest potential and growth comes from our strengths.  No matter how hard you work at it, if you are just not good or not interested in something you are less likely to succeed. Whereas if you spend time further developing competencies and preferences that you already have, you will find that you become exceptional; that you advance beyond your expectation.

Furthermore, if we focus on finding a career that draws on our strengths on a daily basis not only are we more likely to succeed, but we are more likely to be happy, energetic, productive, profitable, patient with customers and clients and have fewer sick days.

So if you find that you are great at writing essays and terrible at retaining information that revolves around numbers and statistics or vice-versa, embrace that.  In numerous interviews that I have conducted with successful, happy people, when I ask them what advice they would  give to young people, just about everyone has said, “follow your passion and you will succeed.  Do what you are good at.” Now we have some scientific research to support those assertions.

If you would like to look a little further into the concept of positive psychology or would like to take some tests that help to draw out your strengths try the two sites below.

Authentic Happiness

VIA Strengths profile

Kim, at the end of her presentation, left us with this quote:

“People don’t change that much.  Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.  Try to draw out what was left in.  That is hard enough”  (Buckingham and Coffman, 1999, p.57)

What is the right career for me?

A sometimes even more daunting task than figuring out what your transferable skills are is figuring out what you want to do with those skills.  It is common to run into people who do nothing to change their life or career because they have not yet figured out what it is that they want to do.  If you can figure out what’s important to you, then all you have to do is find where or how that intersects with what’s out there.

How do I begin to figure out what the RIGHT direction is for me?

How many of you started high school with a different goal in mind than doing a degree in the area that you are currently in?

How many of you sat down and figured out what you wanted in a life partner and then went out and found him/her without dating any “wrong” people along the way?

For many the process of figuring out the correct path whether it is for education, career or relationships involves a few wrong turns before you find the right direction.  What is most important is that you are constantly turning within and analyzing what makes you happy, satisfied, and is sufficiently challenging to keep you interested.

Deciding on a career is not just about finding the right job; it is also about finding a lifestyle that suits your needs.  Start by thinking about your core beliefs, your character, your philosophy of life. What are your material needs? What are your priorities? Where do you want to live? Are you willing to work 70 hours a week for a lot of money? Or would you rather have more time for family even if it means less pay?

These sorts of questions are important to think about.  They will help to guide you towards a career that suits your lifestyle.  Number in order of priority to you the following things:

__ Challenge                                      __ Independence

__ Family                                            __ Power

__ Financial security                           __ Service to Others

Once you have done this, each time you think about a career option ask yourself, “Does this position offer the values that are most important to me?”

It is also important to recognize that there are many other factors that play a part in our career decisions.  Skills and abilities, education, values are only one part of the pie.  We also need to ensure that we are reflecting on things that may be outside of our control such a labour market trends, the needs and expectations of loved-ones . . .

A useful tool in career exploration is The Wheel, created by Norman Amundson & Gray Poehnell which illustrates the 8 main factors that influence career decisions.

The best choices with respect to career are made by taking all 8 factors into consideration.

Another way to get an idea of whether a career is suited to your lifestyle is to look at those who are already in that career. Does their day to day life appeal to you?  Do they have enough time for their children?  Are they too stressed or too bored?

Identifying Your Transferrable Skills

Liberal Arts students have many of the skills that employers are desperately seeking, such as: writing, research, critical analysis, and time management.

In addition to the skills that you have developed in the classroom there are numerous other skills that you develop through extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, volunteer work etc.

Although you have the skills that employers are looking for, I find far too often that students come into my office feeling like they have very little to offer.  Many, seem to think that a university degree should be vocational training.  Rather, what we do in a liberal arts degree is teach you to think, reason, deduce, problem-solve, communicate. . . We do not train you for one specific career, we train you for numerous, diverse and ever-changing roles.  A much better preparation for the realities of todays work environment than a focussed vocational training.

So what are some of those transferrable skills?

Communications: speaking effectively, writing concisely, listening attentively, expressing ideas clearly, facilitating discussion, providing appropriate feedback, negotiating, perceiving non-verbal messages, reporting information, editing. . .

Research and Planning:  gathering information, forecasting, predicting, identifying and solving problems, developing ideas and alternatives, organizing,setting goals. . .

Human Relations: Developing rapport, listening, providing support for others, motivating, sharing credit, group work, cooperating. . .

Organization, Management and Leadership:  Initiating new ideas, paying attention to details, managing groups, decision making, managing conflict, coordinating tasks, teaching, coaching . .

General Work Skills: being punctual and reliable, managing time, meeting goals, accepting responsibility, setting and meeting deadlines. . .

All of these skills are in great demand in today’s job market.

The Value of a Liberal Arts Degree

In particular, Arts and humanities students often have a difficult time identifying potential career paths.  Often their choices are influenced by the idea that a liberal arts background is not particularly transferrable and the most obvious next step is teacher’s college, law school or grad school. Although those are three great choices, they are, by no means, your only options.  If you are not passionate and determined to become a teacher or a lawyer, or are not driven by a burning research question that can only be answered by a higher level degree, then these are likely not the best options for you.

A liberal arts education nurtures skills and talents increasingly valued by modern corporations. Today’s companies function in a state of constant flux. To survive and thrive, modern corporations need employees that are adaptable, can think on their feet, see things from numerous perspectives and are able to communicate, reason, create, write and speak – for multiple purposes and to multiple audiences.  In short, they provide leadership. These are exactly the skills and challenges that a liberal arts education prepares you for.

This blog will provide tips, tools, and strategies for students completing a Liberal Arts degree and trying to answer the timeless question, “So, what are you going to do with that?”

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