Over the years I have had the chance to work in many different positions and been astonished at how many people were not enjoying their work. This is mainly because they were doing jobs that did not match their talents, passions, values or strengths. I even saw some of them reach burnout.
In the early stages of my career I also felt stuck in jobs that were becoming meaningless to me and I was progressively losing my motivation. People say that I’m a fighter. That is probably what made me keep searching for what I really liked – I call it “the quest for the element”.
I think that people can eventually find their real element with some effort and with some help. Since people kept asking me how I managed to find my element, I decided to write this post to share my experience on the matter.
After trying to help a number of people I came to the conclusion that the secret to finding one’s element can be unraveled by analyzing the following factors.
Your intrinsic strengths
Everyone is born with strengths, but not everybody truly knows what they are. Your intrinsic strengths are composed of your talents and skills. By identifying your strengths and using them in your daily activities, you’ll perform better.
When people use their strengths, they feel more energetic and lose the sense of time. They rapidly learn new information and show high levels of performance.
When people use their strengths, they are typically able to do more of what they are good at, rather than just doing something adequately. They also gain energy from doing these activities and they can keep working even if they are tired.
High achievers spend most of their time using their strengths. They may not necessarily have more strengths than others but they have learnt to use them better and to take advantage of them.
My point here is that if you want to perform well, you need to be working to your strengths. Understanding what you are really good at becomes important. Therefore, after you have understood what your strengths are, you should ask yourself if your current job is a good match. If it isn’t, you should look for alternative, more relevant jobs.
Your passions and interests
Being happy and performing well is directly correlated to doing activities that give us back more energy than we need to perform them. For instance, some people have their energy drained by doing repetitive tasks, with a diverse and varied workload providing a great stimulus to perform well.
People should first understand their main interests and check if these involve tasks that drain or give back energy. Then, they should once again check if their current job or activity is a good fit. If it is, fine. If not, they should start looking seriously for potential alternative jobs/activities that match their interests.
The way you interact with your environment and how much energy you consume or acquire also depends on your personality. Everybody is born with a specific brain ‘footprint’. It’s pointless trying to fight it. Of course, this can evolve with time but the main personalities one has will always be there. For instance, some people tend to be extroverted and competitive, while others are more introverted and easygoing. No personality is better than the others but each job requires a specific personality and mindset.
So, what is your character footprint? There are many assessment methods suggested in the literature. I personally like to use the MTBI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) scale coupled with the “Big Five personality” assessment. Then I try to understand how the advantages and disadvantages of each personality footprint affect someone’s current life. For instance, if your personality is that of a “competitor”, you’ll most likely need a challenging job to maintain a high level of motivation.
Secondly, you should understand which activities give you energy and which don’t. For instance, a very extraverted person will get depressed working alone. Now ask yourself: does my current activity trigger my energy points?
Thirdly, you should look for activities that cause you stress. In this way, you can either find ways to minimize the resulting stress or stop doing those activities that trigger it. Remember that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just our bodies telling us that something has to be changed. I have written another blog post dealing with how to approach stress.
Your work values
Values in relation to work are the ones that give purpose to a job or to a specific activity in the eyes of the individual who does it. The effort, commitment and motivation that a person brings to a job are usually directly related to the value that they perceive in it.
For example, a consultant working for a large corporation may value his or her prestige, material benefits and security, while a consultant who works for a charity may gain his or her main satisfaction from knowing that the work is contributing to a social cause. Some examples of work values are independence, helping others, risk-taking, variety, prestige, leadership, security and creativity.
In order to maintain energy and motivation, your main work values should be in agreement with the activities you perform. I have created a simple questionnaire to identify what the respondent values are. The next step should be to check if these work values match the activity that you’re doing now. If it’s not the case, you should look for alternative potentially relevant jobs.
Your emotional intelligence (EI)
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability that some people have to better manage their emotions. People with a high level of emotional intelligence are better able to identify the feelings of those around them and they will be able to employ those emotions to affect other people positively.
Take the example of a leader who shouts at his or her team while under stress in comparison with one who keeps control and calmly assesses the situation? Which one is the more likely to succeed?
This is why some jobs require people with a high level of emotional intelligence. EI can come in different forms: the main ones are motivation, empathy, social skills, self-regulation and self-awareness. Since many articles describing these abilities exist in the literature, I’m not going to explain them here.
There are several questionnaires that can assess your emotional intelligence. Whatever your final EQ level is, make sure that your ambition is in line with your EQ proficiency.
Let’s start by stating that IQ tests don’t establish intelligence. They only assess your capacity to learn fast. For some jobs, you need a high IQ, while for others you can still be very successful with a lower IQ. For instance, an IQ test does not measure your creativity, your motivation, or your musical affinity.
Now, whatever you do, just make sure that your expectations are in line with your abilities. If you have a low IQ, it’s totally fine, but perhaps don’t try to become a scientist. Knowing your IQ should only guide you towards activities that are best for you.
Now, no matter what you do, luck will have its say. For example, if you happen to be naturally exposed to an environment that is giving you the tools to find your element, you’ll find it sooner. Let’s say that you come from an entrepreneurial family and you have a gift for selling. It would be easier for you to discover your true element in this situation. Having said that, my thoughts about luck are expressed in a famous saying:
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca