As I pursue my Doctor of Education, I am researching how students make decisions to find meaningful careers. I’ve noticed two themes that have emerged in the research on finding meaningful careers: adaptability and authenticity.
What do these two seemingly different topics mean for you
as you consider what career path to take?
First, let’s cover adaptability.
Adaptability is highly connected to career development and success. A Journal of Vocational Behavior
article defines it as “the readiness to cope with the predictable tasks of preparing for and participating in the work role and with the unpredictable adjustments prompted by changes in work and working conditions.”
In other words, you need to be ready to prepare to make career decisions while also staying open to things changing.
The main process of career adaptability includes
- exploring (looking the available opportunities)
- planning (looking ahead to the future)
- deciding (making practical choices)
- managing the changing interpersonal and environmental factors that influence career goals.
There’s some good news in that the number one StrengthsFinder strength in the students that I coach is adaptability
. According to the StrengthsFinder definition: “People exceptionally talented in the Adaptability
theme prefer to go with the flow. They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.”
However, what’s interesting to me is that in order to have all of the career adaptability components – to explore, plan, decide, and manage – you need to know who you are and why you’re making these career decisions in the first place. In sum, you need to develop authenticity.
How authenticity comes into play…
I’m currently reading researcher Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection
, and I really like how she’s defined authenticity from her research: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means… exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle…”
In coaching high schoolers, college students and recent graduates, I see a common theme among those who struggle to make decisions for their future: They are afraid of this struggle. They want to know who they are, but they oftentimes haven’t had opportunities to figure this out.
A recent New Republic
article went viral on social media called “Ivy League Schools Are Overrated
.” Although I don’t agree with everything in the article, one line in particular stood out, “So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success.”
I think this statement is true even for non-Ivy league bound students. Many of the students that I have coached are afraid to fail. They are afraid of the struggle that ironically would help reveal their strengths. Even their StrengthsFinder results confirm this trend. 27% of my students have Deliberative as a top 5 strength
, which is “best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate obstacles” (StrengthsFinder definition).
As Brene Brown sums up, “Life-paralysis refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others.”
How can we practice authenticity if we’re afraid to test our limits and find out who we are?
I sometimes see students relying on their adaptability too much because it’s easier to just morph into whatever the situation requires of them. This quality can be good on the job when you need to be willing and ready to take on new projects. And it can be good when finding a job because you have to be ready for change. However, in figuring out what career direction to head in, you also need to know who you are.
So it’s really not an adaptability versus authenticity debate. As in most of life, it’s a both/and solution.
We need adaptability to be open to career opportunities and to be willing to try new things, even if we find out they’re not for us. While we exercise this adaptability, we are shaping who we are and developing authenticity.