Not long ago, we got a call from a bright young man whom we’ve both mentored for years with some important life questions he wanted our help answering. He’s 28, the graduate of a top-notch university with a degree in economics. His resume includes working at Morgan Stanley, and two years as COO of a Silicon Valley start-up that was sold to an e-commerce site. Our friend had the option of working at the site in a managerial role, but opted instead to spend time “finding himself.” Which was why he was reaching out.
“I just don’t know what I should do next,” he lamented. “A lot of industries and jobs interest me, but I can’t decide which direction to go, and I don’t want to make a mistake.”
Right off the bat, let’s agree this is a good problem to have when you’ve got great credentials and a bit of a financial cushion. But at its core, it’s a problem that lots of people with less of a safety net share. Indeed, in our travels around the world, one of the most common questions we hear is, “What should I do with my life?”
For several years, our answer to life questions has been to urge people to conduct what we call an “Area of Destiny” analysis, which is based on thinking first presented in the book “Live Ten: Jump Start the Best Version of your Life” by the New Jersey-based pastor, Terry A. Smith. Very simply, an AOD analysis impels people to seek a career at the intersection of two questions and their answers: What am I uniquely good at? and What do I love doing?
While we’ve seen Area of Destiny analysis guide some terrific careers, recently we’ve been motivated to add a third vector to it, namely, the question: What kind of skills are needed out there? Sure, we know the old saying is usually true: if you do what you love, the money will come. But we’re realists too. There’s no point chasing a career that no one will pay you for.
More important, however, we’d assert there’s another reason why this third vector is so crucial in answering life questions. When you do work that’s in high demand, your sense of purpose is heightened. Having an impact feels great; in fact, we’d say it’s a basic human need. And that’s why you should never make a career decision without knowing what skills are most urgently needed (and in many cases, lacking) in different industries.
Fortunately, such data has recently been collected and analyzed by information scientists at Strayer@Work, educational partners of the Jack Welch Management Institute. They used select data provided by LinkedIn from public member profiles in the US to create a real-time index that shows which skills are in high demand and short supply, and vice versa, in key industries. This unique tool both helps companies better understand the talent shortages they face, and allows individuals to map their own skills to gaps in the market as they design their careers.
Returning for a moment to our friend who called for advice, our conversation quickly ascertained that he was uniquely good at building teams. As for what he loved doing, the answer was “starting new companies,” particularly in the technology space. Then, using the index study as our source, we urged him to probe the third vector. What talent holes exist in tech? Could he fill them? If not, what would it take to acquire them? A transitional job? Additional education? Some of both?
Finally, we urged him to stop worrying about making a mistake. Careers are filled with wrong turns, or as we would rather describe them, “learning expeditions.” And look, in some ways, “What should I do with my life?” is one of the life questions you should never stop answering. The world changes; you change. But our three questions, taken together, are amazingly effective in giving you direction, again and again. Let go of your fear, and answer them.
Source: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.