This is a guest blog by Jeff Perry, MBA
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” ~Carl Jung
Vision, clarity, making a plan, taking action — trying to achieve these things can be extremely difficult and even anxiety-inducing in the face of great uncertainty.
Sometimes we look to other sources for guidance on what we should do next in our career and lives. Certainly mentors, guides, and coaches can be partners in this process. But in the end, the responsibility for getting clarity and living the life you want is up to you and no one else.
No one understands you better than you understand yourself. Only you have lived through every single one of your life experiences so far.
The person who has the greatest ability to unlock clarity in your life is no one other than you.
If you do as Carl Jung suggests and look inside, you can uncover some amazing truths about what you believe and what you are working to become. Clarity involves not foretelling the future, but seeing clearly our past and present circumstances, and deciding what kind of life we want to create.
Here are 5 Keys to Career Clarity for Engineers
1. Adjust Your Mindset
The concepts around “mindset” have been growing in popularity over the last few decades. I characterize mindset in a few ways:
- Established set of attitudes held by someone
- How you view people, challenges, and your environment
- Beliefs that orient the way you handle situations — how you sort out what is going on and what you should do
Indeed, you might say that our mindset is the “lens” through which we see the world. There are many different mindsets that we could discuss (could link to my TECC podcast if launched), but one of the most widely researched and taught is the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset. If unfamiliar with this, I highly recommend the book and TED Talk by Carol Dweck.
In a nutshell, to have a fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone — who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly — in aptitude, talents, interests, and temperaments — but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
“Smart people succeed,” says the fixed mindset. “People can get smarter,” says the growth mindset, “and do so by stretching themselves and taking on challenges.”
Where are you on the fixed-growth mindset spectrum? Do you believe you can change and improve? Do you see challenges or things that are difficult for you as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as insurmountable obstacles?
2. Examine the “I Am” Beliefs About Yourself
A fixed mindset can get us feeling like we are never able to change who we are. Consequently, we believe many “I am” statements that are really limiting beliefs about ourselves.
I have done a lot of this myself. As an aspiring engineer, I started believing in stereotypes about myself that limited my desire to pursue personal growth in many areas. A few statements I got stuck on included:
- I am book smart, not “street smart”
- I am analytical, not creative
- I am good with numbers, not with people
- I am not good at things that are “subjective” — I want objectivity and right answers!
These beliefs only served to keep me limited and thinking I could not improve! I had a mentor who taught me the principle: “Ask a better question, get a better answer.” Too often I have spent time asking “why” things in my life that I was not happy with were the way they were. I was frustrated and did too much dwelling on the negative. I felt that things were happening to me rather than for me.
I have since learned that I can change those limiting “I am” statements by asking better questions! Here are a few I like:
- Who do you really want to be?
- What circumstances do you want?
- What attributes and characteristics?
- What relationships do you want to cultivate?
- What does your typical day look like?
- What are you focused on?
- What do you stand for?
I would invite you to spend significant time with these questions and others like them. Write the answers in a journal and do not be afraid of the honest answers. By doing so, you may be able to see the gap between where you are now and what you are trying to become. Then, go to work on becoming that person.
In truth, who you are today does not have to be who you are tomorrow.
3. Go Deeper With the 5 Whys
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Many engineers have used the 5 Whys tool to get to the root cause of a problem in their work. But do we ever use it on ourselves? I believe that using the tool can help us dig deeper into our “why” and get increased clarity, and getting clarity leads to motivation to make it happen.
So use the 5 Whys. Think about a big career goal that you have. Then ask this simple question:
Why is ________ important to me?
Just answer the first thing that you think of. Do not get too complicated. Take that answer and ask the same question using the new answer. So if you said “make $100,000 per year,” you would then ask:
Why is “making $100,000 per year” important to me?
Your answer might be something like, “to comfortably provide for my family.” You then put THAT into the next question.
Why is “providing for my family” important to me?
I want my children to have great opportunities in life.
Why is “giving my children great opportunities in life” important to me?
I want them to have a better life than I had.
Why is “giving my children a better life than I had” important to me?
Here, you may uncover something about your past that is now driving your decisions. Keep going.
Continue this for at least 5 levels. 5 Whys. It can often be beneficial to go even deeper by asking why seven to eight times. In any case, go as deep as you can. This activity will help you explore key life events that have shaped you, and important beliefs and values that can help you get to the core of why you are doing what you’re doing.
4. Make Decisions, Not Just Goals
“Your life changes the moment you make a new, congruent, and committed decision” ~ Tony Robbins
There is a HUGE difference between creating a goal and making a decision. A goal is mostly just an idea. It is something you want, and perhaps are shooting for.
A decision, on the other hand, is something you are fully committed to. You are willing to make sacrifices and do uncomfortable things to make it happen.
Making a decision requires you to take your idea (goal) and take action. You are no longer just hoping for something to happen — you are making it happen.
Are you willing to turn your big goals into decisions?
What are you ready to truly commit to?
5. Journal to Create
“All things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.” ~ Stephen R. Covey
As you seek to create a vision of your future and what you want to become, this process of getting clarity is all about performing the “first” creation so that you can make the second, or physical, creation a reality rather than just a dream. One of the most powerful tools to do that is by utilizing a journal. In my life, I spend time with my journal every morning and night.
In the morning, soon after I wake up, I spend time writing about what I plan to accomplish that day, week, month, and year. I also write about who I am becoming. I write it in the present tense. Remember those “I am” statements I mentioned earlier? I write a list of new “I am” statements that I am working to make true. As I write them, they become truer for me each day. I then spend some time experiencing the feelings of what it is like to be the person I am writing about.
I also use my journal to brainstorm ideas for things I want to write, create, or ways to help my clients. Doing this in my journal rather than doing it on my computer helps me from getting distracted. Writing by hand is also much slower than thought, so it forces me to slow down a bit while also allowing my mind to explore more ideas than just the ones I am writing at the time. It is pretty cool. At night, I review my day, write how it went, and what I could have improved. I think briefly about what I want to accomplish the next day and record no more than three priorities I will work on.
Finally, I will consider a question I want to ponder while I’m sleeping. Your brain can solve a lot of issues, even while sleeping. In fact, your subconscious is extremely powerful. As Thomas Edison said, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”
Writing in a journal is extremely powerful. Start now if you have not already.
There is no silver bullet on how to get clarity on where you want to go in your career and life. Many of these ideas and more can help, but it comes down to you.
- Do you have a growth mindset where you can see “failures” as opportunities to learn?
- Can you revisit the beliefs you hold about yourself and get rid of those that limit you?
- Are you willing to make some hard choices and take actions that are uncomfortable or uncertain?
- Are you willing to be committed and make decisions, not just have ideas or goals?
- Will you take the time to mentally create your future with a journal?
No one else can decide where you will take your career — it is up to YOU! Go make it happen…
About Jeff Perry, MBA
For years, he has had the pleasure of supporting engineers and software pros, from new grads to director level. Having been on the front lines in the technical world, he has been able to map out the necessary skills for becoming a quality leader in the field.
You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffcperry/.
Jeff also has a new FREE on-demand training for engineers who are job searching or in job transitions – you can see it at https://www.engineeringcareeraccelerator.com/.
Get Career Clarity Now
Getting clarity on your life and career is crucial to success. For specific activities and ideas to create more clarity in your career and life, grab the FREE Career Clarity Checklist that Jeff has put together. You can get it here: https://morethan-engineering.com/career-clarity/
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success