Who You Are & What You Do: It’s All about the Intersections
Intersections have a bad reputation. Most often the word evokes images related to driving as in the confusing & traffic jammed places where drivers are raging and yelling at others for not following the rules, or how they would have been in an accident were it not for the acumen and quick reflexes of the yeller.
I love intersections, especially the major ones, because they require a heightened amount of attention. As result these can have an outsized role in getting to your destination in the most direct way possible.
When it comes to your career there are two intersections that I observe with the greatest interest. First, the intersection of your priorities and then later, your accomplishments. Collectively I consider these intersections as the way to achieve the clarity needed to make more informed & decisive choices and to inform others about them.
Intersection of Your Priorities
There you are at that busy intersection nervously considering your route. You ask yourself what you should do next? And what are the things that matter most as I consider what job to seek? Maybe you’ve never been happy with work. Perhaps, your last few decisions have made you doubt your ability to select the right opportunity. Whether or not you have the luxury of time, how do you confidently move in a direction? You are so nervous about wasting your time, perhaps even your money, with little certainty of success.
First, the good news. You are ready to act. Many people never take any action. They settle for something unfulfilling and sometimes work that makes their life worse. Your first intersection is all about the set of criteria you prioritize that you will use to direct your work choices. This isn’t just a set of loosely defined terms like I want to make a good living, I want to have a social impact and I need to have colleagues I like. Rather, it is about digging deeper and getting more granular with definitions like:
- I need to make at least $75k a year to meet my financial obligations but would ideally make closer to $90k with full benefits and some retirement matching.
- I need to pursue work that impacts urban youth to gain greater access to career opportunities.
- I need to work alongside other people committed to making a difference who are entrepreneurial and from diverse backgrounds
The idea here is that this will help you narrow down which might be the right career path or job opportunities for you. There you sit at an onramp, but you have so many choices along the way. Also, the intersection will help you see if you’ve crafted something in your head which may not be available in reality. I often think about the person I coached who decided her intersection as performing art therapy with developmentally disabled children where she needed to earn at least $100k. We are better off knowing if the intersections we’ve chosen are extremely unlikely so we can make a pivot.
Intersection of Your Accomplishments
Once you ascertain the right path based on your set of criteria and exploratory conversations with others about possible roles you are then prepared to pull together a narrative. The best of these stories tends to pull from intersections as well. It is your responsibility to figure out the interesting interactions that become compelling and memorable narratives which differentiate you from others. That’s often the way people will remember you and draw from that to share you with others.
Sometimes this is about a single professional experience that people find unusual or in places that are memorable and other times it is about pairs that don’t usually go together.
- Morticians, jugglers, professional poker players and Elvis impersonators automatically get noticed with anything else and become memorable. (You still need to make sense for the person hiring that goes from memorable to hirable.)
- Roles in spaces like cruise ships, or for celebrities or sports teams are fodder for conversation.
- The digital strategist who is great at partnerships, the salesperson who is a talented public speaker or the lawyer who is also a coder are all unusual and compelling. It doesn’t mean they are a great fit for every job, but those intersections can be played up especially in a world where everyone wants to hire a rockstar.
If the first intersection was about you deciding where to go. The second intersection is about ensuring that someone who is hiring remembers you and sees you as a desirable hire.
Finding fulfilling work is about being deliberate and intentional. Noticing your intersections will take you a long way towards making that happen. And ultimately get you to the right destination.
—Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021.