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Careers Café

Uncover your strengths in two easy steps!


Seldom do magazine cover promises of easy steps and good results live up to their claims. But sometimes, there actually is a set of short steps we can take to accomplish something worthwhile. That doesn’t mean we’ll naturally take them, mind you. Normally, if there’s something seemingly simple and time-limited that might be useful, we find endless reasons to avoid it because:

  • It feels self-indulgent to think about yourself
  • It’s difficult to tell what will be a worthwhile use of time, speaking of which…
  • Oh my gosh, the TIME!  Where will the time come from?

A recent class reminded me that, when it comes to the sort of activities that help with career management, the active part is important. I’ve started teaching a career course at a university, and last week I got to watch a whole class full of reserved people burst into excited discussion. Disclaimer: none of what we did is new or unique. But if you actually do it, it’s useful.

Everyone had just called to mind a time when they felt they were in a state of “flow.” If you’re already sick of the concept of flow, just skip to the next paragraph. For those of you who aren’t, “flow” is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s term for being completely absorbed in a task that requires (but doesn’t outstrip) our skills. While we’re in flow, we’re so focused on the challenge before us that we often lose track of time. For the sake of this class, people could choose any experience, whether it was professional or not.

Then they paired up, shared their stories, and had their partner pick out skills, personal qualities, knowledge, and values revealed by the speaker’s experience. It took all of five minutes per person, but the general reaction was this: people had no idea how much one brief story revealed, and their partner’s observations rang true.

Just as academia is a mix of tough independent work and collaboration with people who might spot things you haven’t, so can career management be. It’s not uncommon to form groups to review work in progress; why not form a group (or piggyback on one you’re already a part of), set aside skepticism for a moment, and let someone else highlight the strengths that come to you so naturally that you don’t even know they’re there.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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