A Research Paper By Sharee S Wells, Career Obstacles Coach, UNITED STATES
A Toolkit for Ensuring Positive Career Choices
As Henry Thoreau said,
The mass of men lives of quiet desperation…
The phrase is often used to speak of not following one’s passion. It refers to living life by being mediocre, ‘flying under the radar,’ and avoiding any risks to one’s expectations. Basically, the phrase means that most people are scrambling unhappily to settle for less rather than risk losing happiness by trying for more.
Now, I don’t know if that is 100% true of ‘the mass of men’. However, in my years as a career advisor, it was certainly true of many of my job search clients. It was also true of those who have been unemployed or who become employed again but not appropriately or adequately. Those people live with the pressure of waning income and self-confidence. They don’t work or they work in jobs they don’t like, that doesn’t inspire them, challenge them, pay them appropriately, or give meaning to them. A few find their bliss and turn that into their new career. Others flounder.
Two Kinds of Workers; One Theme of Positivity
Another great quote, by the most prolific of authors, ‘Anonymous’ says:
There are two types of workers – those who work to live and those who live to work.
The first group gladly works to afford to do what they love to do before or after work hours. The other group works chiefly for what it means to them or their world – a cause, a purpose, an avocation. For both types, having no work, unfulfilling, or poorly paid work is a drain on their psyches and their souls. Daily doing duties they dislike, with inadequate pay, lack of respect, opportunities, or opportunities in conflict with their values steals their joy in the work and in their lives.
It doesn’t have to be that way. As the respected career guru, Dr. Bernard Haldane once said,
If you do what you love, you’ll never have to ‘work’ a day in your life!
Dr. Haldane was one of the pioneering psychologists who used an approach of positivity to find career fulfillment. His methods looked at our good experiences at work and play, plus the skills and traits we used well and enjoyed doing. Those experiences and joys became the criteria for a person’s career choices. Haldane expanded his system internationally to help millions find and grow fulfilling careers. The same basis of positivity is found in the psychological studies of Haldane’s peer, Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Needs from Toward a Psychology of Being (1962, 2010)). The topic of using positive psychology in coaching has been promoted also in the works of Martin Seligman (Learned Optimism, 1998), Donald Clifton(Soar with Your Strengths, 1992), and others as the approach caught the attention and proved itself.
Finding Work to Love Within a Person’s Joy
Every ‘job’ has tasks that anyone might find drudgery, difficult, or redundant. Even the most positive employees can find themselves feeling negative in a career. A detail-oriented person may love paperwork and quality checks. A big-picture person may hate that and instead enjoy vision or concept development. An introvert may have terrific technical skills but be drained by managing people’s issues. An extrovert may be super at talking with customers and employees but have difficulty keeping confidence, or sometimes, saying anything of substance. A former Bible study teacher once said to our class, “Why do we all have different skills, talents, and traits? Because if the entire team is made up of quarterbacks, the game doesn’t work!” (For readers unfamiliar with American football, quarterbacks are a key position for the team). In the world of work, what is drudgery for one person is a joy for another and that’s why the “game” works. When working with a coach who approaches careers from their perceived successes, people can realize their best options for a career move.
I became involved in career advising in the 1980s under the principles of Dr. Bernard Haldane, a British-American who helped pioneer the philosophy of using one’s strengths to find satisfying careers. He developed it while working in the 1940s and 1950s with military personnel transitioning into corporate America. In his 1974 book, Career Satisfaction, and Success, Dr. Haldane outlined his methods. The prevailing thought was that the past experiences of career seekers were the only things they had to “sell” to potential employers. That called for repetitive action in the search and the options. It left little room for growth or change and Dr. Haldane saw many clients who were stuck in one vocation or desperately unhappy with their careers. He suggested they open their minds to a new way of thinking. He posited that what they did best and most enjoyed doing could be the foundation for building their career searches. Instead of looking at only their pasts, they were looking at their present and how it could bring them to their future. Dr. Haldane was heralded by the U.S. government as a career master for people transitioning to completely different workplace structures. Haldane’s concepts ultimately spawned not only his consulting business, but also an international non-profit (NGO), and millions of fulfilled workers in Europe and the USA. He is known for saying, “If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life!” I so enjoyed advising my clients from this happy stance, that I bought a license for a branch of the company named after him and ran it for 18 years.
Martin Seligman’s work on positive psychology also influenced my approach to career development. I especially gained insight from his writings on “learned helplessness” (1975), “learned optimism” (1991), and character strengths (2004). Coming from my background, Seligman’s concepts reinforced Haldane’s principles of working from one’s strengths to find satisfaction. Further, Dr. Seligman’s works moved information processing from the “what can go wrong” thinking of psychologists in the 70s, through positivity and hope in the 90s, and finally, to his true “out of the box” thinking in the early 2000s. At that time, he and colleagues wrote a counterpart to the health industry’s standard Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (known as the DSM). They published Character Strengths and Virtues (2004) which looks at mental health from a “what can go right” angle. Opening his own mind and risking being different led to the opening of thought leaders’ minds and resulted in limitless quality-of-life improvements for his clients. That thinking certainly enhanced the work and home lives of many of my career clients.
A third application of the positive, success-directed approach to work-life came to me through the work of Peter Drucker, world-renowned business leadership and management consultant. A contact at General Motors (GM), one of the world’s largest corporations of that day, engaged Drucker to study their management operations. With his team of researchers, Drucker produced Concept of the Corporation, a report that introduced their innovative multi-divisional structure. It also suggested that GM might reconsider many of its long-standing policies on customer, dealer, and employee relations. Rather than treating the people as a ‘necessary evil’ or side detail, Drucker proposed that human concerns should come first. It is said that GM’s chairman was so upset by what he perceived as the criticism of his management style, that he never once acknowledged the report and never allowed it to be mentioned in his presence. Drucker, however, meant only to change the corporate focus. Years before, he had learned that generally, business thought leaders considered only the behavior of commodities on the market when planning management strategies. Drucker, instead, thought of managing business in terms of the behavior of people before they handled the commodities. His body of work promoted creating positive experiences for people and relationships in business. In the end, Drucker’s philosophies of management and leadership captured the attention of global business leaders, who rushed to read his books, hire him to consult, and follow his principles. (Drucker even wrote the forward to the 1980s re-publication of Dr. Haldane’s Career Satisfaction and Success.)
In 1954, Drucker’sbook, The Practice of Management, stunned the world. While common wisdom was that a corporation’s purpose was to make itself money, Drucker posited that was not the true purpose. He said the purpose of a business is to make customers. (The by-product of happy customers would be money.)Today management philosophy continues that slant with recommendations to leaders that happy employees make happy customers. This is born out in practice, as reported in Gallup’s 2017 “The State of the American Workplace” report. Gallup reported that employees who are engaged are more likely to improve customer relationships, which resulted in an average 20% increase in sales.
Of course, that’s just one tiny statistic among many. By 2019, the job search website and app Glassdoor’s economic research arm executed a further study that directly looked at the link between happy customers and happy employees. “…in-person experiences are part of the service provided to customers, providing a direct link between employee morale and customer satisfaction.” (Page 10, Trend 2)
It makes sense that if employers work to achieve happy employees, and as a direct result, happy customers contribute to the company coffers, then happiness in the workplace is profitable. Why not start that happiness before ever choosing a career, becoming someone’s employee, or starting a business of one’s own?
So, where to begin? I cannot count the number of middle-aged people who’ve sat in sessions with me and said some version of, “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up!” Most then laugh sheepishly, for they’ve had careers of 15-25 years by then. Still, in their moment of crisis, they find themselves at a crossroads between hope for something new and better and grief at the loss of a job, worry over quitting a job, or desperation from an unfulfilling job. Some people can dream up a new opportunity. Others need assistance to pinpoint changes that are realistic and that will stretch, yet still fulfill them. To that end, here’s my toolkit for offering clients space to look into themselves, at the “who” of them, for opportunities to achieve the happy, positive work they love.
The Career Choices Toolkit
At the Core: Personality Preferences and Traits
Myers Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®)is a preference inventory of four contrasting facets of personalities. Mother-daughter academicsIsabel Meyers and Katherine Briggs based their tool on Carl Jung’s theory of personality types. When administered correctly answers chosen are the personal preference of the subject rather than what subjects think they “should” do in a situation. It looks at what perspective individuals say is preferred in relating to the world(Introversion/Extroversion), how they want to gather information(Sensing/Intuition), how decisions are made (Thinking/Feeling), and acting on decisions(Judging/Perceiving). The validated results are then defined for individuals. That allows them to understand themselves and the other “types” they encounter. There are free online versions that are roughly accurate if the subject understands the importance of answering what they wish were the case rather than what they believe they “should’ think or do. The most accurate results, of course, are those offered by certified MBTI administrators. A list of administrators and the free assessment are found here. https://www.myersbriggs.org/
Enneagram is thought to be grounded in middle-and near-Eastern philosophy. In the Western world, G. I. Gurdjieff introduced the Enneagram in the early 1900s as a tool for spiritual development, personality, and various space and time or “cosmic” processes. The Enneagram’s theoretical basis is not agreed upon across the board like the MBTI’s. Empirical validation is nowhere near complete. Thus, the Enneagram is intuitive and its veracity and effectiveness are currently only as good as the intuition of the persons using it. Still, being unable to gauge scientific reliability doesn’t negate the fact that many people find the Enneagram a quite useful vehicle for self-discovery and spiritual growth. The Enneagram provides a vehicle where people become deeply aware of the false consciousness of ego (false self) to accomplish a return to essence (true self). It does this by identifying nine personality types, with three sub-types each so people can understand where they are now spiritually and how to get to where they want to be – their essence. https://tests.enneagraminstitute.com/
DiSC® and True Colors® are other personal assessment tools primarily used by corporations to help improve teamwork, communication, and productivity in the workplace. These give teams and groups respectful, unified language (or fun colors) to refer to and collaborate with other members of the group. DiSC makes the whole process C quite useful for identifying situational workplace stressors. TrueColorsis great for groups or individuals who need a lighter, more fun approach. Both can create excellent foundations for people to understand themselves and others and how to work effectively with other types for a positive impact on the organization. https://www.discprofile.com/ and https://www.truecolorsintl.com/about Of course, there are other assessments of the sort. These are well-known ones that I find useful.
Character Strengths and Values
The VIA Survey of Character strengths takes a different twist on personality. VIA (Values in Action) Character strengths are identified as 24 traits that are positive parts of anyone’s personality. The premise is that these 24 are what make people feel authentic and engaged. Additionally, the model is that all of us have all 24 character strengths. However, we are unique because the strengths show up in different degrees for everyone. The VIA assessment’s 240 questions are keyed for positivity. It was designed and tested by Dr. Christopher Peterson and his colleague Dr. Martin Seligman. According to its website, “The VIA Survey is the only free, scientific survey of character strengths in the world.” As coaches, we know that clients who know and use their character and value strengths can achieve all sorts of goals for increased happiness and well-being. Through character strength awareness, those clients also find meaning and purpose. They improve their relationships and their stress and health management. They learn from themselves and others and can become excellent leaders. https://www.viacharacter.org
Authentic Happiness is a series of free questionnaires available online from the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center. The Center’s project is under the leadership of Dr. Martin Seligman. This series takes time and introspection to complete and may not be for every client. However, it does not have to be taken in its entirety. Clients who participate end with a deeply insightful look at their levels of enduring happiness. Because it is situational, it can be taken at various times and under differing circumstances to gauge the effect of changing conditions on people’s happiness. I have found one of the questionnaires useful for clients who I suspect may be suffering from depression because of their conversations and reported symptoms. Being neither a psychotherapist nor a doctor, I find it helpful to offer that questionnaire to clients to ease the process of referral to another professional for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Other questionnaires may be useful for clients who want to find more gratitude, explore work-life satisfaction, look at the meaning of their lives, delve into compassion, close relationships, forgiveness issues, and more. The Authentic Happiness series includes the VIA Strength surveys. https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter
Notwithstanding that both the MBTI and Enneagram have formal spiritual applications, assessments and inventories exist also for those wanting a strictly spiritual perspective. Western culture wants to find and verify truth with logic and fact accuracy to make practical use of it. Eastern cultures accept the truth and the facts as presented. Western philosophers prioritize individual values where Eastern philosophers prioritize societal duty. The perspectives on principles from different cultures are valued and perceived differently from personality angles, too. Thus, for coaching clients interested in exploring their careers through a spiritual mirror, coaches may have to do a little digging online for resources. Here are three examples:
For Christians, popular inventories are those set to identify the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit found in the Bible under Romans 12:6-8 and/or the five spiritual giftings in 1 Corinthians 12:1-7.
Romans – https://mintools.com/spiritual-gifts-test.htm & 1 Corinthians – https://www.biblesprout.com/articles/god/holy-spirit/spiritual-gifts-test/
For those who follow Islam, the assessments were more difficult to locate. The approach is to develop the characteristics rather than just identify what is there. However, this Spiritual Personality Test is a simplified tool based on the Yaqeen Institute article, Souls Assorted: An Islamic Theory of Spiritual Personality by Zohair Abdul-Rahman and Nazir Khan. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/souls-assorted-an-islamic-theory-of-spiritual-personality
As for Buddhists, 2000 years ago the Indian scholar Buddhaghos classified those seeking enlightenment into three natural temperaments. When the assessment below is read, it appears that the types are negative – greed, aversion, and delusion. But the purpose of identifying those“natural” human conditions is to transform them into their enlightened positives: generosity, love, and truth.
The goal is to understand our nature so we can transform these unhealthy patterns into healthy ones. Our temperament is not a weakness, but a place where we can cultivate strength. Instead of trying to be someone else, you can strive to become the best version of yourself
according to Elana Miller, M.D., an ‘authentic happiness’ psychiatrist. Her organization, Zen Psychiatry offers the typing information here. https://zenpsychiatry.com/the-three-buddhist-personality-types-which-one-are-you/
Translation in the Workplace: Traits and Talents as Happy Skills
Once people identify their personalities and the likely traits of those that make them suited to certain lines of work, the thing that makes people unique is how their traits and talents are combined. Some well-founded tools for the kit are in this section.
Dependable Strengths©is the term Dr. Haldane used in the 1940s when creating his system for military personnel transitioning into new careers in the corporate world. Dependable strengths are those skills and traits each person has to offer at work and elsewhere. These strengths they can always rely on doing well, enjoying, and being proud of doing. In other words, dependable strengths are the strengths that make people happily successful in whatever situation they find themselves in. The process (Dependable Strengths Articulation Process / DSAP©) basically consists of listing people’s good experiences (those they did well, enjoyed doing, and are proud of). The strengths are then extracted from the stories of those good experiences and consolidated into a ranked list of most dependable strengths. With those consistent strengths, clients write master resumes highlighting the strengths and connecting them to other activities that they achieved. For career seekers, clients can write about their dependable strengths in their marketing materials – resumes, profiles, cover letters, interviews,s and follow-up emails. They can talk about their strengths fluidly in interviews, performance reviews, sales talks, and more with measurable examples appropriate to different situations. They can focus on job applications by matching their unique combination of strengths to positions requiring them to help. Best of all, they can network more comfortably with friends and strangers to get job ideas, perceptions of their qualifications, and referrals for new jobs or promotions. http://www.dependablestrengths.org
CliftonStrengths® is possibly the most known and thoroughly-researched system for strengths-based careering. It was created in the 1990s by Donald. Clifton, Ph.D. In 2003, he was dubbed“the father of Strengths-Based Psychology and the grandfather of Positive Psychology” by the American Psychological Association. After years of research and development, he is the originator of what is now known as CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder). His system is offered through Gallup, Inc., the research company Clifton’s organization bought in 1988. CliftonStrengths is available online through Gallup and other organizations (with permission). It filters for 34 transferrable skill areas in the job market so participants can focus on those they do well, enjoy, and find most motivating. https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/home.aspx
Application: Matching Happy Factors to Positions and Industries
People can use the tools above to arm themselves with information about their personality tendencies, strength-based characteristics, values, and awareness of the joy to be found in their work situations. When that is accomplished, it’s time to match positions, levels, and industries so they can target their searches IRL (In Real Life). This targeting can be used for everything from searching job advertisements to networking to starting their own companies. A couple of tools to get started to follow.
Educationplanner.org has a basic tool for initial looks at first careers or choosing a degree or study path. It is brief, free, and can be done online or downloaded as PDF. http://www.educationplanner.org/students/pdf/which-careers-match-your-skills.pdf
[Note for coaches working with youth: The Authentic Happiness series does offer the VIA Strengths tool for children. Just go to the site URL above, set up a free account, and go to VIA Strengths Survey for Children.]
O*Net Online is a comprehensive tool for career exploration and job analysis that is developed and maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor. The data covers 900+ occupations. These can be searched by one’s values, temperament, skills, cross-functional abilities, knowledge, work activities, and more. The information crosses languages for what things might mean in a military career vs. one in education or other fields. Users can gather industry and position information from whatever their happy place is via codes, job activities or environment, assessments, interest profiles, or just by reading. Which careers are growing and which are lagging? What ones use STEM skills or cool technology? What sort of education or training is common? What are the pay ranges? Research help about careers is captured and searchable in this free, online database. https://www.onetonline.org/
Pursue Meaningful Careers
With a clear idea of who they are and what they think will make them happy and fulfilled in their work lives, clients have the information needed to pursue fulfilling careers. They can create a job search strategy and network properly and effectively with others. They’ve determined what they have to offer to the market willingly, and joyfully, and can discuss that articulately with those who can give them reality checks, encouragement, new insights, and even referrals.
There are obviously more steps clients can take to prepare to love what they do, tell their stories, and conduct fruitful meetings about opportunities. Regardless, this basic toolkit should give coaches plenty of options to offer clients the exploration they want to find foundational, soul-inspiring clarity about career options they’ll love living.
Haldane, Bernard. Career Satisfaction and Success: A Guide to Job Freedom. New York: Amacom (1974 [With Forward by Peter Drucker, 1984 Reprint])
Maslow, Abraham. Hierarchy of Needs From Toward a Psychology of Being (1962, 2010)
Seligman, Martin. Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman (1975, Reprint 1992)
Seligman, Martin. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Knopf (1991; Reprint Penguin Books 1998; Reissue Free Press, 1998)
Clifton, Donald and Nelson, Paula. Soar With Your Strengths, Delacorte Press, 1992.
Peterson, Christopher and Seligman, Martin E. P. Character Strengths and Virtues. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2004)
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). The via Classification of Strengths. Cincinnati: Values in Action Institute
Drucker, Peter. Concept of the Corporation New York: The John Day Company (1946)
Drucker, Peter. The Frontiers of Management: Where Tomorrow’s Decisions Are Being Shaped Today New York: Truman Talley Books/E.D. Dutton (1986)
Denning, Steve. “Peter Drucker’s Virtuous Firm vs the World’s Dumbest Idea, Forbes(2018)
“The State of the American Workplace,” Copyright ©2017 Gallup, Inc.
Zhao, Daniel and Chamberlain, Andrew. “Happy Employees, Satisfied Customers: The Link Between Glassdoor Reviews & Customer Satisfaction” Glassdoor Economic Research (2019)