Regardless of what stage you might be at in your career exploration, asking yourself this question is likely to be quite illuminating:
What work do you offer to do for free?
And I want to be clear here that I am not advocating that you DO work for free, but instead that examining the kinds of tasks that you find yourself offering to do for others can perhaps offer insight into what skills and tasks make you the most fulfilled when you do them (assuming that you are not offering out of obligation, but of inspiration).
What do I do for free?
In my case, for as long as I can remember, I have always been volunteering to edit resumes. When I worked at Goldman Sachs every employee had the opportunity to organize a community service activity as part of an initiative called Community Team Works. The year that I decided to organize one, I pulled together – you guessed it – a resume workshop for ESL students at a local community center. OR the resume’s close cousin, the statement of purpose. Long before I came back to graduate school, much less directed a graduate program, I was always the office go-to person for editing statements of purpose for graduate school. It is probably no accident that people would be asking for help with these documents because they are some of the highest stakes documents that people create in their lifetimes, but that I really enjoyed them and even sought out opportunities to talk about them is really telling about what makes me tick. There is something about helping someone find expression for their unique way of engaging with the world that resonates with me, and the energy that I have for this genre and for resumes has everything to do with what has motivated me to write this blog years later.
My cousin and hospitals
When my cousin was wrestling with the decision of leaving her job and starting medical school in her mid-thirties, I pointed out that she had been volunteering in hospitals since I could remember and that should tell her something about where her true passions lie. It had honestly not occurred to her that this was something that set her apart because when she went to the hospital, she was surrounded by other people who did the very same thing. She didn’t realize that the idea of volunteering to work at a hospital might not be something that everyone would choose to do, never mind that it just might make your average person break out into a cold sweat. Well, at least it would make me want to break out in a cold sweat anyways, which I shared with her. She has since become a doctor, and practices as a pediatrician. When I asked her recently if she was glad that she made the decision to go back to school (even though she was much older than most of her classmates) she told me “absolutely!” From where I see things, her life is so very different now that she is living so much closer to her passion.
Now How About You?
So, what do you do for free? Where/how do you volunteer your time? What tasks does this work entail? What skills, interests, abilities do you bring to these tasks? How do you feel when you do them? Is there a way to bring some of this to your career?
Or, maybe another way to approach this question would be to ask: What do people come to you for advice about? Or what are you seen as expert in whether or not it is the thing that you are officially responsible for?
In any case, I would love to hear all about it!