Once you know yourself, finding your path and making career choices will be so much easier!
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”” This is one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King’s statement is one I share with people all the time as part of a broader discussion about career choices and career success. If you have followed The HBCU Career Center blog or on Facebook or found me on Twitter or connected with our group on LinkedIn, you know that King’s premise is one of the guiding principles I address all the time.
What You DO With Your Life
Basically, if you are making a decision about career choices such as what career you want to pursue; Whatever you choose, your goal is to do it well. Therefore my challenge to you would be to think about your future life’s work in a new way. Instead of asking – What do I want to BE when I grow up? Ask instead – What do I want to DO with my life?
Let’s face it, labeling people according to their roles is how we make sense of the world around us. At a very early age, most of us learn to define people in terms of the jobs they hold in our society. We begin as children to observe the career choices we see around us all the time – Teacher, Preacher, Police Officer, Fire Fighter, Mail Carrier, Doctor, Coach, Lawyer, Nurse. As children, we aren’t even aware of the income these professionals make. We just know that when we observe these people around us, we see what they do and we are maybe drawn to the work they do.
As we get older, and start thinking more seriously about career choices, we start to perceive more than just job titles. We begin to perceive the differences between those people who are good at their jobs, versus those who we believe are not. For example, think about how young you were when you realized that there was a difference between a great teacher and one who wasn’t so great? Once you get to college, you start to notice that there are definite differences between what you and your peers consider to be the good professors versus the not-so-good professors.
As working professionals we encounter the same phenomenon with coworkers and bosses. We are able to distinguish between those professionals who do excellent work and are willing to put in the necessary hours to excel at projects and assignments. We acknowledge those people whose passion and drive for a profession makes them willing to do the work required to become excellent. These people approach their jobs with energy and commitment. On the other hand, we have all worked with that person, who you know would rather be elsewhere, doing something else. As we observe these things, we begin to realize that there is more to choosing an occupation than a job title. We begin to make choices based on other criteria that are important to us.
Criteria for Career Choices
To make successful career choices requires that we each do honest self evaluation to fully understand what I call your V.I.S.A.. Simply put, you must understand your Values, Interests, Skills and Abilities. It is these criteria that manifest themselves into the behaviors that go beyond job titles. It is these criteria that impact how well we DO our work. If you don’t spend the time to evaluate your V.I.S.A., you could find yourself in the wrong career and be that not-so-good teacher, lawyer or professor. If your only focus is on a job title you could be missing out on career options that would be a really good fit for you. Having an understanding of your V.I.S.A. is your key to DOING what King inspires us to do which is to become excellent at whatever we do.
Once you have an understanding of your V.I.S.A., you will be able to filter your research, your experiences, and your training with a focus on doing excellent work. As we find ourselves attracted to specific job titles, King’s words inspires us to think beyond titles and consider the behaviors required to DO our best work in that profession. If your values, interests, skills and abilities are not aligned with the behaviors needed to succeed in a specific occupation, consider a new direction.
This personal exploration is a critical start of career and educational planning. The more you know about who you are, the more you will know about what type of work will inspire you to keep learning and growing. These are key drivers in long term career success. Know that you will have to make these types of decisions over and over.
If you are able to identify and pursue occupations that fit your personal V.I.S.A., the more driven you will be to pursue excellence in your chosen profession. Understanding your V.I.S.A. will help you navigate beyond job titles so that you can DO work as well as Michelangelo painted, Beethoven composed music and Shakespeare wrote poetry.
Dr. Robinson wrote this article originally in 2015 for publication in BOSS Magazine.