People who start companies sometimes have a crisis of career identity.
They wake up one morning and realize they have no business being in sales or customer service. Or, they look around the office and decide they don't have what it takes to lead people effectively.
I've been there. I'm the poster guy for a radical career change. I worked in the corporate sector for a decade before deciding I was a better match for the writing profession and solopreneurship. I'm really glad my career took a radical turn.
I can usually tell almost right away if someone is a good match for their job. (Send me an email if you want to talk about your role and if you think you are a good fit.) When I was pounding the pavement at SxSW last week, I met countless people who were obviously amazingly good at their jobs and a few who were more like a candy confectioner dating a health food nut. In minutes, I questioned their career choice.
How can anyone possibly know that? I think there are a few obvious hints.
First, you have to be ready to ask yourself a few tough questions about your skills and personality. The person interviewing you for a job might not want to discuss which personality traits are well-suited to a position, but we're not talking about how to apply for a job or conduct an interview. This is about you and your career.
Say you want to pursue a job in marketing but you tend to be direct and confrontational. OK. Why marketing? It's a field that is all about presenting an image and selling. Another (less polite) way of saying that is that marketing is really about tapping into self-confidence. It's about convincing people they need something even if they might not need it. It's a field that thrives on image presentation. If you are not totally in love with that concept, you should find a different career.
Another example: Say you want to be a manager. You're drawn to this position because there is a bigger paycheck or because there is a confidence boost in having the final say in the office. Remember that a career is about building success over a long period of time. Leaders are extremely good at encouraging people, confronting people, inspiring people, and energizing people. If you don't have those skills, no amount of personal motivation is going to help (although some training might).
The problem is when you have a desire to be in a certain field but you are drawn to it for the wrong reason. You want to do marketing because you don't have to be as technical or you get to spend time with people. Yet, are you really good at marketing? Do you excel at presenting a favorable image of a product or service? Do you like convincing people that they are better off with the product you are marketing in some way? If you don't believe in the core mission of a career you will not be a good fit for that career.
Another issue is when you have good skills in one area but exceptional skills in another. My own career serves as an example of this. I was a good manager. I enjoyed leading teams. Yet, it turns out I'm even better at analyzing things and explaining them. I settled for good while best was waiting in the wings.
I met someone recently who was good at marketing. She could "sell" an idea or product just fine. Yet, what she didn't seem to realize is that she's even better at analyzing details--e.g., a job that is not about presenting information as much as it is in analyzing it and presenting the facts. Someday, she might realize she should be doing marketing analytics instead or a job in communication. She might be better at leading a marketing effort because she is confrontational and direct enough to lead a team.
What about your ego? It plays a huge role, either by getting in the way or helping you excel in your career. Ego is not a bad thing. It can push you forward or block your path. It's always a good idea to pause and think about what you are doing without letting your ego get in the way. Set the ego aside and ask questions like this:
What are my three best traits compared to everyone else?
What gets me the most excited during a typical work day?
Does everyone around me keep saying I'm good at my job?
Am I doing this job to pay the bills but enjoy outside pursuits more?
Am I jealous of what other people do?
Am I more interested in changing how other people think?
Your answers can help you determine if you are in the right profession. Be honest with yourself. The person I mentioned in marketing is a good example. If she just analyzed her job a little more and thought about her personality, she'd realize she's not really into the idea of presenting an image. It's a ball and chain for her. It's not going anywhere.
What's so interesting about analyzing your career is that, if everyone in a small business came to the right conclusions about their jobs, the company would grow. From what I can tell, great companies reach great heights with great people who are in the perfect role for that company. It doesn't really get any more complicated than that. Spend the time to reflect on your own career choice. You'll be glad you did.