Your personality is a key factor in finding happiness in your career. Unfortunately, when we make our initial career choices, we may ignore certain key traits or just focus on where we can make the most money.
I learned to program computers in high school in the early 1970s. Yes, they had computers back then!
I decided to study computer science at the Northwestern University Technological Institute, which is now the McCormick School of Engineering. I loved to solve problems. I enjoyed writing programs in a variety of languages, even assembler code. I would often find myself writing programs for a couple of hours at a time.
I graduated in 1978 and went to work for IBM. My job was to program the latest trend—word processors. I was supposed to sit in my office for eight hours a day with a coding pad and write assembler code. This kind of code is directly translatable into computer instructions (it is very tedious to program and hardly anyone does it anymore). Once I was done writing a significant amount of code, I would sit at my desk and review it. Then my team would get together and perform code reviews.
The problem with this is that I am a very high-energy guy. I cannot sit at a desk for more than an hour at a time. I am social. I like being around people. My personality was not suited to just sitting behind the desk and programming for hours at a time.
I spent six years being miserable before I moved into a new role where I no longer wrote programs, but supported Computer Aided Design (CAD) systems. I got to work with people, solve problems, and often got to work with my hands.
I was not genuinely happy until I moved into a training function where I taught the latest technologies developed at IBM. That transition took over ten long years.
My personality with the need for high activity was in direct conflict with sitting at a desk for long hours as a computer programmer. My personality did not mesh with my career choice.
I have a client who has been a finance guy in the non-profit sector for most of his career . He appears to be very structured and orderly.
After graduating from college with a liberal arts degree, he became a non-profit executive director. He decided to get an MBA from a prestige business school because they had a non-profit track in their curriculum. When he started the program and was sitting with his adviser, he asked when he would get to take the non-profit courses. After a few perplexing questions his adviser said “We should have removed those from the course catalog years ago.” Despite this, he stuck it out and finished his MBA in Finance.
He appears too structured and orderly, but he only works well when it is his structure. He is really good at creating order out of chaos, but once he finishes, he gets bored. He wants another problem to solve.
He has been in one non-profit organization after another, fixing the problems, then getting bored and leaving.
He is now building sales programs. He does not sell! He creates sales systems and then trains sales partners on how to implement them. He creates the structure and gets to interact with people to implement that structure. Not your typical finance guy.
His personality told everyone that he was very orderly, but his need for very little outside structure caused people to place him in positions where there was already a lot of structure… that he could not change. Therefore, he was often unhappy.
It was only after he sought out a role that was compatible with his personality, rather waiting than being placed in a role, that he was happy. He became proactive and not reactive.
Just because you are good at something does not mean you will want to do it for a career. We are often pushed into career paths because we appear to have certain traits. I wrote previously a post titled Are You Your Authentic Self at Work.
Just because we have certain talents does not mean you can apply them in the business world. Just ask artists and musicians about applying their talents in the business world. This is why it is important to try a career before you fully commit. Try before you buy!
Check out my book Repurpose Your Career – A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers